by Kevin Waetke

With Mexico’s growing hunger for U.S. pork, it has become one of the most important export markets. Earlier this year, members of the National Pork Board traveled to Mexico City to further build trade relations by emphasizing the safety and reliability of the U.S. pork supply.

“Our trade visit was eye-opening,” said Jan Archer, immediate past president of the National Pork Board. “As board members, we were able to witness why Mexico is such an important trading partner. The average Mexican family spends 30 to 40 percent of its income on food. Consumers there appreciate the ability to access safe, nutritious and affordable U.S. pork.”

Within the next five years, economists predict Mexico may become the largest market for all U.S. goods, surpassing both Canada and the European Union.

The key objectives of the trip were to discuss and define areas of mutual interest, to extend appreciation to Mexico’s trade industry for the high volume of U.S. pork purchased and to emphasize the reliability and availability of U.S. pork and the next steps needed to support expanding trade.

“The average Mexican family spends 30 to 40 percent of its income on food. Consumers there appreciate the ability to access safe, nutritious and affordable U.S. pork.”
– Jan Archer, North Carolina

“Humbling” Experience

“I enjoyed walking into a local meat market and watching videos that showed consumers how we raise our pigs in the U.S.,” said board member Gary Asay, Osco, Illinois. “To know that U.S. pig farmers are helping feed families across the world by supplying safe, nutritious and affordable pork is humbling.”

In 2016, Mexico was again the No. 1 market for U.S. pork and pork products by volume, with more than 730,000 metric tons exported there last year. In terms of value, Mexico was No. 2 at $1.4 billion.

New Milestone

In January 2017, Mexico was No. 1 in terms of both volume and value for the first month ever. The United States accounts for more than 90 percent of the total pork imported by Mexico.

During the five-day tour, board members met with USDA’s Foreign Ag Service to understand Mexico’s economy and its current political environment. The delegation, which included representatives of the National Pork Producers Council, also learned about new, innovative pork products being developed to address the changing eating habits of Mexican consumers.

The group visited the diverse places where Mexican consumers purchase pork, ranging from high-end club stores, regional supermarkets, and fast-casual restaurants to traditional wet markets.

The group met with Mexico’s largest retail chain, which sells and processes U.S. pork almost exclusively, and learned of its plans for growth. Mexico’s largest importers were on hand to discuss mutual interests and ways to help the U.S. pork industry maintain its role as a strong supplier.

“New advances, such as developing packaged pork that can be stored up to two years without refrigeration, continue to make our product more competitive,” Asay said. “This makes me optimistic about the future of our trade with Mexico.”

Good Return to Producers

“Our investment of producer dollars in the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) returns great dividends as it develops relationships with importers and retailers,” Archer said. “Our Mexican neighbors import fresh pork and ham. Also, by-products valued less by U.S. consumers, such as pork offal and pig heads, fill an important need in the Mexican marketplace.”

Mexican facilities process and transform more than 40 percent of U.S.-produced pork hams into deli meats and formed-ham products. These products are crucial for low-income diets.

“Pork is a mainstay in Mexican culture. Consumers appreciate it and know how to prepare it,” said National Pork Board CEO Bill Even. “The challenge Mexico faces is getting more protein-rich food into the diets of low-income residents and children. This requires a focus on new product development and education.”

The National Pork Board works directly with the USMEF to address this key issue, specifically through outreach to dietitians and other medical professionals in Mexico. USMEF also educates students on the role pork and protein play in the diet and, to Mexican consumers, provides point-of-sale promotional materials at retail stores.

Beyond these direct consumer messages, Pork Checkoff-funded USMEF activities include work with trade representatives – importers, brokers, and processors – to educate trade groups on the benefits of U.S. pork and its quality, safety, and availability.

“As a pork producer, I value our trade relationship with our neighbor even more after visiting this beautiful country,” Archer said. “Growth in our industry is the result of a strong trade balance.”