Sometimes the only way to understand a foreign culture is to experience it firsthand, which is a primary reason the U.S. Meat Export Federation helped 19 members of the National Pork Board Leadership Academy tour the marketplace in Mexico City for four days in mid-November.
USMEF provided academy members a direct look into typical Mexican restaurants, three major supermarkets and an outdoor market in addition to submerging them into the Mexican culture and informing them about the opportunities of U.S. pork in the Mexican market.
"It was exciting to see so much opportunity for U.S. pork in the Mexican market," says Terry Danforth, an academy member from Lenox, Ga. "It was eye-opening to learn about the different approaches USMEF uses to market U.S. pork in Mexico, which got me thinking that some of those ideas could be shared to reach the Mexican population in America."
For members of the academy, a program in its third year and funded by the National Pork Board to assist state pork groups and to train industry representatives, the trip helped them understand how U.S. pork is promoted in the retail sector and is perceived by Mexican consumers.
"A trip like this, to see firsthand how our checkoff investment through USMEF impacts consumers' buying decisions, is a great way to show return on investment," says National Pork Board Director, Producer Services Nicole Boettger, who led the group along with assistance from the USMEF-Mexico staff.
During a meal at Toks, an upscale family restaurant with 49 outlets in Mexico, academy members saw U.S. pork dishes on the menu along with the U.S. pork and USMEF logos.
"There is a feeling of great pride and accomplishment to see the product that you produce being talked about and displayed with the U.S. pork logo in such a great manner," Boettger says.
Adriana Cadena, USMEF-Mexico HRI & processing specialist, showed examples of different USMEF pork promotions used in Mexican restaurants and explained why they are successful. Gustavo Castano, USMEF-Mexico retail manager, took academy members to three major supermarket chains to show them U.S. pork promotions in action.
Victor Fabela, a winner in the first of the now-renowned USMEF Chef Contest, spoke of the expanded career opportunities, such as cooking with U.S. pork at the World Pork Congress last year, that resulted from winning the chef contest and participating in the U.S. market tour afterward.
Academy members dined at the renowned Au Pied de Cohon restaurant, where they tasted U.S. pork feet prepared by Executive Chef Guy Santoro, also a former winner of the USMEF Chef Contest. Santoro greeted the group and helped prepare the creative and delicious U.S. pork dish.
"This academy trip has provided me with a new appreciation for the pork checkoff and what it can accomplish through its marketing partners, such as USMEF," says Henry Moore, a pork producer from Clinton, N.C.
Academy members toured the Naucalpan wet market to see traditional management of meat products. More than 70% of pork meat in Mexico is sold at wet markets. USMEF helped the academy members distinguish between processed meats and chilled meats, which was a shocking experience for many, due to the lack of refrigeration and care in handling of meat products.
Academy members were surprised by the versatility of specific pork products. For example, Mexicans like to eat blood sausage, fried pork rinds, and pig heads and feet. Academy members saw these types of pork products at the Naucalpan wet market.
Mexico is the second largest market for U.S. pork. Through September, U.S. pork and pork variety meat exports to Mexico totaled 239,422 metric tons in volume and $367.7 million in value.