Craig Morris, vice president international marketing, John Schwartz and Randy Spronk, both pork producers from Minnesota, recently attended the Latin American Meat Showcase in the Dominican Republic.

By John Schwartz, President/CEO of Schwartz Farms, Inc.

Central and Latin America represent significant export opportunities for U.S. pork products, something I learned at the recent U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Latin American Product Showcase.

The late-June event held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, brought together more than 300 members of the industry ranging from producers to large importers. The event started eight years ago with around 60 participants and today includes packing companies, distributors, producers and import/export companies from countries like Guatemala, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Argentina and others that represent a diverse array of market opportunities for U.S. pork.

It was my first year attending the event, and it was a tremendous learning opportunity. U.S. producers and processors have a lot of growth potential in Central and Latin America, and events like this one, organized and managed by USMEF, help us connect with individuals responsible for taking our products into new and emerging markets in the region. I learned a great deal about the specific pork products in highest demand among the region’s consumers and what types of educational efforts will be most valuable in demonstrating the quality and safety of U.S. pork as part of growing our market share in Central and Latin America.

During the trip, I had the opportunity to see directly how Dominican companies package and market our product. I learned higher-end cuts like loins, hams and shoulders are much more popular than variety meats, especially in areas where tourism is a major sector of the economy. I also learned that consumers in countries like the Dominican Republic see fresh pork products ash higher quality than frozen, even though the latter are safer and more easily exported.

The USDA stamp represents a lot more than a federal seal of approval on pork products that show are displayed in Central and Latin American meat cases. Consumers in that part of the world place high value on USDA’s mark, and it’s viewed as a high-end brand in some markets. It showed me U.S. pork has a bright future in the region, and it is important that we keep those markets open and continue to provide the pork that’s in high demand.

I attended the USMEF Latin American Product Showcase as a pork producer, and saw strong interest among the region’s importers and food companies in how we raise our pigs. I even invited some attendees to travel to our Minnesota farm to see first-hand our animal stewardship and the lengths we go to in order to raise a wholesome and safe product.

After attending the event, I now have a greater appreciation for the tireless efforts of groups like USMEF and the National Pork Board to create new marketing opportunities for U.S. pork producers. We all want to increase our exports, and it’s important that we stay on the same page when we work to educate importers, marketers and consumers in regions like Central and Latin America.

Establishing relationships with key industry members abroad is important, but making sure that those relationships serve everyone’s best interest by working to keep markets open is even more important. We must remain attentive to the challenges that could stand in the way of expanded market access, like transportation and logistics, and work to overcome those challenges with the region’s trading partners.

Our industry is fortunate to have such strong advocates in USMEF and National Pork Board, and it’s our responsibility as producers to continue to support their efforts in developing new and existing markets around the world.