More and more consumers in international markets are seeking out U.S. beef, but market access remains a top challenge for the U.S. beef industry, according to U.S. Meat Export Federation President & CEO Philip M. Seng, speaking recently at USDA's Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C.
Seng says, the U.S. beef industry exported to more than 130 countries in 2003, prior to the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy for the first time in the United States that shut down access to 72 of those markets.
Since then, more than 45 closed markets have reopened, but with restrictions. U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports started recovery, exporting 472,668 mt last year, a 47% increase over 2004. The value of U.S. beef exports climbed 69% to $1.365 billion.
"The uptake of U.S. beef has been rapid in markets where U.S. beef has regained access," Seng says. "Consumer surveys, except in Japan, are showing increasing percentages of consumers who view U.S. beef as safe and would consider purchasing it."
U.S. beef arrived in South Korea in just over a month. USMEF has already done analysis and devised plans on how to effectively communicate U.S. beef safety and profitability to consumers, importers and media. USMEF projects U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports to South Korea will be approximately 100,000 mt in 2006.
U.S. beef continues to gain strong footing in Mexico, the No. 1 export market for U.S. beef for the past two years. "We anticipate U.S. beef exports to Mexico expanding each year. To aid in that growth, the chef's contest inspires chefs to create new food trends with U.S. meat, expanding its use and popularity," Seng says.
Although the European Union did not ban U.S. beef over BSE concerns, there are specific requirements regarding hormones and feed that U.S. beef exporters must meet. USMEF recently worked with the Hilton hotel in Amsterdam, providing a luncheon for Hilton personnel and other guests to show how U.S. beef could be successful in Hilton hotels across Europe.
A seminar for 125 chefs from all over the Netherlands was also given with USMEF providing U.S. beef recipe manuals, filled with dishes featuring U.S. beef created by chefs at Hilton hotels in the Netherlands. Hilton plans for all its European hotels to offer premium, high-quality U.S. beef and USMEF is ready to work alongside to help create those fine dining experiences.
When Egypt, a strong market for livers, reopened to U.S. beef last March, USMEF achieved a critical breakthrough persuading the trendsetting JW's Steakhouse at the Cairo Marriot to feature U.S. beef liver cutlets on its menu.
The success of the cutlet and other U.S. beef dishes prompted five other hotels to discuss prices and purchase plans of U.S. beef with local importers, and they are expected to conclude deals soon. Four Cairo hotels and six high-class restaurants are now serving U.S. high-quality steaks, beef liver cutlets and processed beef items as regular menu choices.
Even though the market was open for just nine months this year, U.S. beef variety meat exports to Egypt surpassed 2003 figures. Volume totaled 28,715 mt compared to 23,290 mt in 2003 and value was $44.6 million compared to $19.4 million in 2003.
Although the United States gained a six-week access starting in December to Japan, its No. 1 market for U.S. beef in 2003, the market closed again due to an error resulting in export of U.S. veal cuts that violated the agreement with Japan.
"USMEF aims to provide consumers with assurances of the safety of U.S. beef, creating an environment among consumers conducive to the reintroduction of U.S. beef," Seng says.
Recent polls indicate 24% of consumers would buy U.S. beef it returned to store shelves, while 23% says they would purchase it if celebrities or academics says U.S. beef is safe and 20% says they would order it if it returned to popular restaurant menus.