South Korean vendors sell steamed pork at a market in Seoul, South Korea. Getty Images/Chung Sung-Jun

Preference for U.S. pork increases in Korea, Latin America

The U.S. share of Korea’s total pork imports has increased dramatically this year, from 31 to 35%, even as imports also trended higher from most of Korea’s main suppliers.

As U.S. pork exports continue to be impacted by retaliatory duties in China and Mexico, two other regions have shown an increased hunger for U.S. meat. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, South Korea and Latin America have both become favorable markets for U.S. pork over the last year.

“With the high demand for protein, Korea heavily imports U.S. beef and pork,” says Jihae Yang, director of USMEF-Korea. “A lot of the domestic production remains steady and there’s low growth to capture the fast-increasing demand.”

Yang says domestic beef and pork supply growth is limited in Korea because of tight environmental regulations and the high cost of feed, labor and other inputs. That’s why the Korean market is turning to the U.S. industry to meet their meat boom needs.

September pork exports to South Korea increased 33% from a year ago in volume (12,486 mt) and 30% in value ($33.6 million). Through September, exports increased 43% in volume (172,022 mt) while export value climbed 48% to $489.2 million – already topping the 2017 year-end total of $475 million.

The U.S. share of Korea’s total pork imports has increased dramatically this year, from 31 to 35%, even as imports also trended higher from most of Korea’s main suppliers.

“The consumption of red meat in Korea has been growing and a greater variety of culinary concepts and the products available to meet the diverse market need,” Yang says.

Western culinary concepts such as steak, burger and Korean barbeque are popular there as well as incorporating other authentic Asian cooking concepts such as Vietnamese and Thai food.

Another reason for Korean protein demand has been the demographic changes. According to Yang, single households already make up 30% of total households, a figure that has doubled in the last 15 years. Working women are constrained by time and Korean consumers demand for convenience has in turn spurred demand for pre-package meals, Yang says.

Finally, the country has shown a growing demand for premium meat. Yang says this has been observed in the spending of millennials. While volume is still limited, there are signs of market diversification.

U.S. pork heading south

Pork exports to South America also continued to gain momentum in September, led by strong growth in Colombia and Peru and a rebound in exports to Chile. Through the first three quarters of the year, exports to the region were 27% ahead of last year’s record pace in volume (92,252 mt) and 22% higher in value ($227.9 million).

According to Oscar Ferrara, USMEF regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic, Central America is one market where the U.S. pork industry is having very positive results and it’s been mainly through promoting the quality of U.S. product.

With steady growth in mainstay markets Honduras and Guatemala and sharply higher shipments to Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, January-September exports to Central America increased 20% in volume (58,756 mt) and 17% in value ($138.7 million). This region is also coming off a record year in 2017.

Exports to the Dominican Republic have already broken the records set last year, with volume climbing 35% to 32,859 mt, valued at $71.6 million (up 29%).

Progress in other regions

Led by strong growth in the Philippines and Vietnam, exports to the ASEAN region increased 40% in volume (49,406 mt) and 29% in value ($123.5 million). This was fueled by a surge in pork variety meat exports to the region, which more than doubled over last year in both volume (20,111 mt, up 147%) and value ($32.2 million, up 122%).

With solid growth in Australia and a steady performance in New Zealand, exports to Oceania were 11% ahead of last year’s pace in volume (62,360 mt) and 10% higher in value ($182.3 million).

 

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