One of the most impressive comeback stories for U.S. red meat exports is the rebound in demand in Colombia, where pork exports through November jumped 81% from a year ago to $235 million for a new annual record and beef exports increased more than 80% to $34.8 million, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Exports had been growing in Colombia until the peso weakened and the global pandemic hit in early 2020. Don Mason, USMEF representative in Colombia, says the country still doesn't quite have a handle on COVID-19 and the economy is still struggling.
"But, as reflected in the export numbers, I'm seeing optimism among importers again in this market and the meat trade is starting to normalize," Mason adds. As demand starts building again in Colombia, USMEF is taking steps to help differentiate high-quality U.S. product and build sustained consumer demand in local butcher shops.
About half of imported meat is sold at retail through fragmented distribution channels. A primary channel is through butcher shops owned by importers, which USMEF has targeted for technical and marketing support, funded by USDA's Agricultural Trade Promotion program.
"We look for ways to differentiate high-quality U.S. pork and beef. Our market assessments show a wide disparity in how meat is merchandised and sold at retail, especially in butcher shops," says Mason. Standardized audits developed for butcher shops will help them improve numerous aspects of their operations with the goal of increasing sales of U.S. pork and beef.
"Importers don't have retail expertise and the butcher shops often do not have the time, resources or knowledge to properly handle and effectively sell a high-quality product such as U.S. red meat," says Maria Ruiz, USMEF trade specialist in Colombia. "These shops also receive extra scrutiny from regulators because they carry U.S. red meat and therefore are receptive to improving their operations through our training program."
The program is divided into two areas – technical and marketing – with a combined 76-point checklist. The audits identify and prioritize deficiencies in areas related to food safety, product handling, product management and presentation, merchandising and customer experience. Specific suggestions about potential improvements are then shared with the butcher shops.
Nine importers, with more than 80 points of sale in the largest cities in Colombia, have joined the program and are committed to providing sales results pre- and post-implementation of their improvement plans. Some of the butcher shops have moved into phase two, which includes training on packaging, food handling, quality attributes, nutrition and promotional materials.
"USMEF is challenging these butchers to 'up their game' so they have an appealing shop with well-presented product and ultimately, increased sales of U.S. pork and beef," says Mason. "We already have a waiting list of additional importers and shops who want to join the program."
Source: U.S. Meat Export Federation, which is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.