By Craig Morris, Ph.D. National Pork Board Vice President of International Marketing
In early May, representatives from the National Pork Board’s international and domestic marketing team joined the U.S. Meat Export Federation on an immersion mission to Mexico. My intent was to gain a bird’s eye view of Checkoff investments at work in Mexico. I walked away with so much more.
Mexico is our largest trading partner, with the U.S. pork industry exporting 1.8 billion pounds of pork and pork variety meats to Mexico in 2017. Over the last decade, exports to Mexico have continued to increase, delivering incredible value to the producer’s bottom line and incredible return on our in-country international marketing investment. Last year, our exports to Mexico brought home $12.48 for every hog processed in the United States. Those are very real dollars underpinning our U.S. producer returns.
It would be easy for me to walk away from the tour focused on dollars and cents. Instead, these meetings genuinely help deepen my understanding of the critical value of the relationships we have built in the region — on display during our visit — and how these relationships impact our success in marketing pork in Mexico.
The Mexican consumer is eating more pork than ever before — much of it imported from the United States thanks in large part to our international marketing efforts. For them, pork is both a dietary staple and a high-quality and affordable alternative to increasingly expensive beef.
It wasn’t until we sat down with a group of international food writers and influential bloggers, at a lunch organized by the USMEF, that I fully understood the symbolic, cultural role that pork plays in the Mexican diet. The food writers shared the tale of two Mexicos.
The first is the traditional Mexico, built around the quintessential “taqueria,” a street-vendor selling warm corn tortillas filled with pork chichurrones or griddled stomachs and ham, frequented by the average “blue collar” consumer at any given time.
The second is the modern Mexico, an emerging food culture with white tablecloth restaurants in downtown Mexico City. The dishes are contemporary interpretations of the traditional pork favorites above, but with a classy, more exclusive feeling. This is the Mexico where consumers are also hungry for a protein to replace beef as an “entertainment” meal — something that will impress their guests but not break the bank. Pork fits that bill perfectly.
What ties the two Mexicos together — and what the writers spoke of almost reverently during our lunch — was the notion that food is about memories, relationships and nostalgia. It is about bringing people together. That notion has borne out in the readership of the Mexican food magazines and blogs.
For one publication we talked to, nearly half of their readers are living in the United States; they are looking for traditional Mexican recipes to remind them of home. For another publication, the vast majority of their readers are in Mexico, but under the age of 30 and searching for traditional Mexican recipes that they can make for family and friends.
The desire to share these traditional dishes with loved ones and friends — and the nostalgia that comes with the experiences — cements the concept of food as the cornerstone of relationships. That concept is something that the USMEF’s Mexico-based staff will continue to capitalize on, thanks to the Checkoff’s investment in international marketing activities.
From partnering with grocery store chains in Mexico to showcase the versatility, safety, quality and superiority of U.S. pork, to gathering insights and working with food bloggers, writers and influencers to connect Mexicans with pork recipes, relationships are at the center of it all.
By leveraging those relationships to increase pork consumption in Mexico, the possibilities are endless. Mexico continues to be the shining star of our U.S. pork exports over the past decade, and the food writers we met gave no indication that demand is diminishing. Growth is ours for the taking and the relationships of today are even more critical tomorrow.
The Mexican consumer is concerned with value and quality, two things that U.S. pork can abundantly deliver. The story behind the protein for the Mexican consumer is not one about social responsibility or sustainability or absence claims, but instead about the result: the meal you eat.
From my chair, our investment of resources in Mexico is about more than just moving product and helping the bottom line. It is about forging a relationship that centers around food and creating memories where pork plays a role.
Connecting to our roots and aligning ourselves — and our international marketing efforts — around relationships with food and, more importantly, with each other is key to our continued success.