U.S. pork exports to Mexico thriving, but still room for growth

U.S. pork exports to Mexico thriving, but still room for growth

Mexico continues to be a star performer for U.S. pork exports, with new records for volume and value being set in each of the past three years. Exports in 2014 totaled 680,843 metric tons – 9% higher than the previous year – valued at $1.56 billion, up 27%.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation projects new records for Mexico again in 2015, though growth is expected to be more modest this year. Even as pork exports to many other global markets slowed significantly in January, Mexico’s volume (59,306 mt) was down just 1% from a year ago and value remained steady at $112.8 million.

While other pork exporting countries have certainly taken note of Mexico’s growing appetite for pork, the United States remains its dominant supplier. Even as imports from its other main supplier, Canada, increased more than 20% last year, U.S. market share dipped only slightly – from about 87.5% to 86%.

“With Canada losing access to the Russian market and targeting other destinations for ham exports, it’s not surprising to see an uptick in Mexico’s imports of Canadian pork,” said USMEF Economist Erin Borror. “But the impact on U.S. exports has been relatively small.”

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Looking ahead in 2015, one primary concern is the strength of the U.S. dollar, which has appreciated by 17% against the Mexican peso and 14% against the Canadian dollar when compared to a year ago. This gives Canada a notable price advantage as it continues to look for alternatives to Russia, which was the third-largest market for Canadian pork prior to a ban Russia imposed in August 2014 on most pork products from Canada, the United States and the European Union. Chile and the EU also export pork to Mexico, but their combined market share is less than 1%.

The USMEF remains optimistic about Mexico, as its consumers continue to enjoy the benefits of U.S. pork as an affordable, high-quality protein. Mexico’s per capita consumption of pork has been growing about 2.5% per year since 2008, assisted by the USMEF’s pork promotion campaign, and this growth is expected to continue.

It is also important to note that even as U.S. pork exports to Mexico have doubled over the past 10 years, Mexico’s domestic pork production and exports have also been expanding. Last year’s exports reached a record 92,230 mt, with Japan as Mexico’s largest market. Similar to the United States and Canada, Mexico’s hog prices have dropped significantly since October, but January live hog prices were still up 4% from a year ago (in peso terms), averaging $0.86 per pound.

One area in which the USMEF sees potential for further growth in Mexico is the hotel and restaurant sector. As part of the effort to capitalize on this opportunity, U.S. pork was recently featured at six hotel and restaurant industry product development workshops conducted in Cancun and Riviera Maya, Mexico. Funding for these events was provided by the Pork Checkoff and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Market Access Program.

Sixty-five chefs and other foodservice industry professionals from area hotels and restaurants participated in the workshops, along with leading distributors of U.S. pork such as Comercial Norteamericana, XO de Chihuahua and Vigar Carnes. An educational seminar provided attendees with information about the key attributes of U.S. pork cuts, including how these items can be used to create unique dishes that will add quality and variety to their restaurant menus.

A cutting demonstration included a detailed description of each cut, including the muscle composition and location within the carcass. The demonstration also covered menu innovations and cooking techniques. Attendees were presented with samples of U.S. bone-in pork loin, brisket, leg, belly, shank, Austin ribs, bacon, sausages and pork shoulder.

During a hands-on cooking session, chefs had a chance to create and develop dishes using some of the cuts featured in the cutting demonstration. Then each chef presented his or her newly created dish to the group and discussed the cooking methods and ingredients used. The chefs tasted and evaluated the dishes for tenderness, juiciness and flavor profile. Attendees were also provided with printed educational materials so they are able to discuss U.S. pork products with their purveyors and employees.

“This is the first time this type of workshop featuring U.S. pork has been held in this region, which is of course a very important tourist destination,” said German Navarette, USMEF-Mexico corporate chef. “These seminars allow chefs to gain experience working with these products and help them appreciate the quality and versatility of U.S. pork. While pork is popular in this area, it is not commonly found in high-end restaurants. These events give chefs an opportunity to change that, by utilizing U.S. pork for fine dining.”

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