Despite COVID-related challenges, U.S. pork exports to Central America set a new record in 2020 and are off to a terrific start this year, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reports.
Through February, exports to the region increased 46% from a year ago to nearly 22,000 metric tons, valued at more than $53 million (up 38%). February exports were record-large to Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, while exports to Honduras were the fourth highest on record.
Lucia Ruano, USMEF representative in Central America and the Dominican Republic, explained that COVID restrictions in the foodservice and hospitality sectors caused significant changes in pork sales channels and consumption patterns, including the establishment of many meat boutiques where shoppers could purchase U.S. pork cuts for in-home preparation.
“All of the countries have very restricted curfews and all of the hotels and restaurants are shut down. So, people had to start new ways of promoting and selling products,” Ruano said.
USMEF's consumer outreach efforts, which included educational webinars and a three-month, region-wide radio campaign, focused specifically on loin cuts, showcasing the loin as a versatile center-of-the-plate item.
Ruano said the radio campaign was very successful, with many consumers reaching out to find out more information as well as where to purchase the pork.
Tariff relief from the U.S.-Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) is now more widespread in the region, making U.S. pork more affordable in countries such as Costa Rica, she added.
In Honduras, the region's leading destination for U.S. pork, domestic pork production also suffered setbacks from recent hurricanes. Repopulating the hog herd will take some time, Ruano added.