The U.S. Meat Export Federation Market Expo, an education program for agricultural leaders from state and national USMEF member organizations, allows participants to travel to key markets to learn more about foreign marketing activities for U.S. beef and pork.
Monday the group toured the facilities of Oregon Foods, a Lima-based company that is a major importer and distributor of U.S. beef. Oregon Foods Director Federico Russo explained the attributes of U.S. beef that appeal to his Peruvian foodservice and retail customers and the Market Expo team had the opportunity to observe the company's portion control, packaging, labeling, cold storage and distribution processes.
"It's great to see high-quality U.S. meat being served in Lima restaurants and the growth potential that exists here," said Steve Nelson, a corn and soybean farmer from Axtell, Neb., who is president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. "But it's also gratifying to see the large volume of offal and underutilized cuts being used here, because exporting those products certainly adds significant value to our livestock."
The team enjoyed lunch at La Bistecca restaurant, which exclusively features U.S. beef on its menu and makes tremendous use of underutilized U.S. beef cuts. One of the items served to the Market Expo group was the traditional Peruvian dish anticuchos – grilled slices of U.S. beef heart. They also enjoyed a beef-and-vegetable stew made with U.S. beef knuckle.
One of Tuesday's highlights was a tour of the beef tripe processing plant operated by Halema, which is also a very large importer of U.S. beef. The team observed the tripe processing and packaging methods used by the company and learned about the use of tripe in Peruvian cuisine. Peruvian mining companies make up a large portion of Halema's customer base, using tripe in dishes served in employee cafeterias. Halema also imports U.S. beef hearts, with Commercial Manager Carlos Montero pointing out that the company recently increased its purchases of U.S. hearts since Peru closed to Brazilian beef following the December 2012 announcement of Brazil's first BSE case.
"The business contacts USMEF has developed here in Peru and the relationships it has with key buyers has really been an eye-opener for me," said Jim Stuever of Dexter, Mo., a corn, soybean, wheat, rice and cotton farmer who represents the Missouri Corn Growers Association.
Beef imports are hot, but pork imports are just beginning
While Peru has been a reliable importer of U.S. beef and beef variety meat for several years (2012 exports to Peru totaled 12,887 metric tons valued $29.7 million), Peruvian imports of U.S. pork are still in their infancy. Pork has not traditionally been a major element of the Peruvian diet, but a growing number of middle class consumers are becoming interested in purchasing higher-quality pork cuts. On Tuesday the team observed Peru's first in-store promotion for U.S. pork, which USMEF South America representative Jessica Julca coordinated with the Tottus supermarket chain.
"The Peruvian image of pork is that it is an item that must be deep-fried," Julca said. "But this is gradually changing as consumers gain exposure to higher-quality pork cuts. Over time, we see growing opportunities for U.S. pork in Peru."
Peruvian economic climate provides promise
The Market Expo team also received a briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, where staff explained the economic and political climate in Peru. GDP growth in Peru has averaged 6% per year over the past decade, including 6.8% in 2012.
"There is a level of optimism in Peru that I have not seen in 25 years," said Michael Fitzpatrick, the embassy's deputy chief of mission. "In terms of building long-term trade relationships, Peru is an excellent partner."
This came as great news to Joel Thorsrud, a soybean, corn and wheat farmer from Hillsboro, N.D., and a member of the United Soybean Board.
"Whenever there's a booming economy, the first thing people want is a better food supply," Thorsrud said. "The way that we are able to help provide that higher-quality food supply is nothing short of amazing to me. Seeing U.S. beef and pork proudly marketed in the supermarkets here and being bought up by customers – that was a great experience."
Agricultural Counselor Emiko Purdy and FAS Senior Agricultural Specialist Gaspar Nolte provided more details on the growth of U.S. agricultural exports to the region they serve, which includes Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. While Ecuador is a small but growing market for U.S. pork, U.S. beef still does not have access to Ecuador. Lack of access is also a problem in Bolivia, which could offer opportunities for U.S. meat because of its rapidly maturing supermarket sector.
The Market Expo team was hosted in Panama by Gerardo Rodriguez, USMEF director of trade development for Central America and the Dominican Republic. The team visited importers, processors and cold storage facilities on Thursday, while also receiving a USDA briefing. On Friday the team will visit local supermarket chains and an airline caterer that utilizes U.S. beef and pork.