Craig Morris, Vice President of International Marketing for the Pork Checkoff

by Craig Morris, Ph.D., Vice President of International Marketing

Last week, the Pork Checkoff Board of Directors met in Seattle, Washington. As part of the meeting, we visited the Port of Seattle, which, incidentally, is the third largest gateway port for U.S. pork and pork products. We watched massive ships get loaded with brightly colored containers, packed chock full of pork products bound for Asia. Out of that very port, 38 percent of pork goes to Japan, 26 percent to Hong Kong, 19 percent to Korea, nine percent to China and 8 percent to other Asian destinations.

It will be a little bit of a race against time to see what makes it there first—the pork products we watched get loaded onto ships or NPB’s International Marketing Committee, which is headed to Asia this week on its Asia Immersion Mission Trip.

The committee will start their journey in Singapore and make stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Macau. Some of these markets—like Singapore and Vietnam—are emerging markets for U.S. pork consumption: markets, where we have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor as consumers’ pork consumption, is on the rise and work to become the “pork of choice” going forward. Others, like Hong Kong, are and have been valuable markets for the U.S. for some time.

I have long said that the Checkoff’s international marketing strategy and the goal of elevating our international marketing activities hinges on two things: treating each market as unique, and the development of meaningful, personal relationships.

Our time in Singapore and Vietnam will be devoted to gathering the critical insights we need to tap into the potential in these exciting, unique markets.

In 2017, the U.S. pork export market in Singapore increased by almost 20 percent from 2016, reaching $17 million. Yet, we face some stiff competition in Singapore from other major pork exporting countries; much of our time there will be devoted to meeting with buyers and retailers to better understand their consumer needs and cement those critical partnerships.

Similarly, in Vietnam in 2017, the U.S. exported over $11 million of fresh/chilled/frozen bone-in hams and shoulders to Vietnam, making it Vietnam’s second largest trading partner for pork products behind China/Hong Kong. Vietnam also imports bellies, prepared/preserved hams, and pork variety meats from the U.S.

Consumers in Vietnam and Singapore are rapidly increasing the proportion of pork in their diets, which provides us the opportunity to capture a growing share of that consumption pie—if we play our cards right. We need to understand the changing consumer and retail landscape in both destinations, share those insights back with our industry partners here in the U.S., and work to deploy targeted marketing campaigns designed to resonate with each country’s unique consumer.

We’ll have the opportunity to see some of those campaigns that are already in the field thanks to the work of our strategic partner, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). I know one of the highlights of the trip for me will be meeting their dedicated and knowledgeable staff on the ground, who are working to market our U.S. pork products there on the ground day in and day out.

While gathering insights is critical, there’s often little substitute for face-to-face engagement. Especially in Asian countries, taking time for in-person interaction and meetings is a sign of the most profound respect and friendship.

In this challenging trade environment, it’s especially critical that we take that time to meet with our friends and colleagues in Hong Kong. The numbers don’t lie—just as 26 percent of the pork leaving the Port of Seattle goes to Hong Kong, a significant amount of our pork exports overall head straight to Hong Kong.

Now more than ever it is critical that we bring our preeminent pork industry leaders to Hong Kong to reemphasize our desire for continued partnership, and friendship. It’s time for some face-to-face engagement and diplomacy, and I hope a time for some celebration of the relationship we’ve built to date. We’ll be meeting with some prestigious government and association officials there, and I know that our producer leaders will do their part to dazzle them.

It will be a whirlwind ten days, but ten days that is time well spent. I am thankful for the leadership of our International Marketing Committee and their willingness to take ten days out of their lives to elevate our international marketing strategy on behalf of the entire industry. As we set sail, to pave the way for the container ships of U.S. pork products leaving the Port of Seattle, and other hubs, every day—please wish us safe travels, good luck and Godspeed.

We hope to return armed with insights, information and new and lasting friendships.