By Darcy Maulsby

Ever heard of Macau? Located on the south coast of China, across from Hong Kong, it’s a tourist destination with premier casinos and upscale restaurants that offer outstanding opportunities to showcase U.S. pork to consumers worldwide.

This left a lasting impression on the Pork Checkoff’s International Marketing Committee members who participated in a trade mission to Asia this fall.

“This trip can only be described as eye-opening,” said Glenn Stolt, president, and CEO of Christensen Farms. “I walked away with a profound appreciation of just how small our world has become, both in food and in relationships.”

Stolt and other pork industry leaders toured Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau during the 10-day immersion experience. Each Asian market is distinctively different and offers tremendous potential for U.S. pork.

Macau, for example, has three times the gambling revenue of the entire state of Nevada. The team visited the Venetian, one of the largest casinos in the world, to observe how U.S. pork is featured in some of its high-end restaurants.

“Understanding the magnitude of this venue exemplifies the demand for both quantity and quality protein,” said Derrick Sleezer, the International Marketing Committee vice chair, and Cherokee, Iowa, pork producer. “A hotel and casino of this scale require excellence from the food they provide their guests. U.S. pork is well positioned to showcase our product to a large and consistent tourist-driven consumer base.”

Diverse Opportunities

The U.S. trade group agreed that the diversity in Asia’s markets is astounding. Some countries, such as Vietnam, are emerging markets, while other markets are mature and affluent, with grocery stores similar to those in the United States.

“In Singapore, U.S. pork is prominently displayed in retail cases for shoppers who are not much different from U.S. consumers,” said Craig Morris, the Checkoff’s vice president of international marketing.

During the tour throughout Asia, the group met with pork processors, distributors, retailers, traders and in-country staff responsible for promoting U.S. pork in the region. The group also met with 40 of the largest importers who help decide what food products will be sold in retail stores, featured on restaurant menus and traded with other countries in Southeast Asia.

Singapore Buyers Praise U.S. Pork’s Consistency

The Asian trade mission helped form stronger relationships with international customers and to elevate U.S. pork as the global protein of choice,” said Bill Luckey, a pork producer from Columbus, Nebraska, and chair of the International Marketing Committee. “

“Not only did we see the many ways that pork is being promoted in these countries, we came back with insights into how to grow market share,” Luckey said.

In Singapore, the group visited a processor of Bak Kwa, a traditional pork jerky that’s popular in the region.

“About 12 percent of the jerky comes from U.S. Berkshire hogs,” Morris said. “While there, pork from Minnesota was being unloaded. The company said it likes U.S. pork’s consistency, leanness and outstanding packaging.”

There is room for growth in overall pork sales to Singapore, with U.S. pork’s market share only at 5 percent of the country’s total pork sector. Pork is a major protein food staple.

“Singapore is an attractive market with good prospects in high-end outlets where consumers are willing to pay premium prices for higher quality,” Sleezer said.

In Singapore, U.S.  pork is often positioned as a premium product, selling for three to five times more than the price of competitors’ products, Morris said.

“Pre-prepared and processed foods are becoming popular as consumers seek convenience to meet their increasingly busy, urban lifestyles,” he said.

Pork Sales Rise in Vietnam

“As in Singapore, consumers in Vietnam are rapidly increasing pork in their diets,” Morris said. “This provides a great opportunity to capture a rapidly increasing market share. But we must first understand changing consumer needs and expectations.”

Vietnam’s traditional wet markets, where fresh pork is sold on the streets, are declining as consumers seek the conveniences of full-service grocery stores.

“U.S. pork is viewed as a superior product in terms of taste and quality,” Morris said. “It’s marketed as such by U.S. import partners and buyers.”

U.S. pork is heavily featured in restaurants there, especially those with newer, more modern menu offerings.

Surprisingly, Vietnam is a booming market for American barbecue,” Luckey said.

Worldwide Connections

In 2019, the Pork Checkoff team will follow up with customers they met in Asia to bring more U.S. pork to their shelves and menus.

“We can do a lot to form relationships long-distance, but sometimes that personal touch can make all the difference,” Stolt said. “Even though we’re half a world apart, it doesn’t feel like that when we’ve shared a meal and talked about what motivates and connects us – safe, wholesome, quality food.”

This food stall, made famous by the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, at the well-known Singapore Tiong Bahru Market showed the juxtaposition between modern retailers and traditional wet markets. Upstairs from the wet market are a variety of traditional food stalls that have been passed down for generations.

In bustling  Macau, the trade team visited Sands Casinos to learn about its large-scale kitchen operations for guests and staff.

Celebrity chef Jack Lee and Gerald Smith, USDA’s senior ag attaché at the U.S. Consulate, promote U.S. pork at the Aeon Grocery Store. Bill Luckey, a Nebraska pork producer, did a radio interview with a reporter at the event.