The 120 international meat buyers who descended on the U.S. Meat Export Federation product showcase last week in Kansas City to meet with 21 United States processors and exporters didn't come to make small talk. They came to buy U.S. beef, pork and lamb. And that's just what they did.
"Now I can give more choices to my sales people," said Romagle Bastidas, trade manager for Grupo Alonzo, which operates 24 companies in the Dominican Republic and imports anywhere from 10 to 40 containers per month of U.S. products, including beef, pork and lamb. "I have learned about many different cuts and different ways to come up with new center-of-the-plate items. Now I can think outside of the box."
Grupo Alonzo, which operates the largest abattoir in the Caribbean along with a value-added sausage plant, provides red meat products to virtually every hotel in the Dominican Republic, in addition to selling at retail. Bastidas took advantage of the week-long USMEF-organized trip to the United States to visit feedlots, meat processing plants, the National Restaurant Association show and Kansas State University for a one-day program designed to familiarize participants with details about the U.S. meat grading and production system. Funding for the week-long program was provided through the USDA Market Access Program, Beef Checkoff Program and Pork Checkoff.
Bastidas is clear about her motivation.
"Our consumers prefer U.S. product," she said.
For some buyers, this was their first time to the United States. It opened their eyes to different ways that fresh and frozen meat can be packaged and how they can offer their customers more options.
"This trip changes the way I buy (meat)," said Ana Maria Ordonez, manager of commercial perishable purchasing for UniSuper supermarkets in Guatemala. "Understanding the different types of retail packages that are available means that I can now buy mixed containers, which will make it easier to sell more product."
For others, such as Carlo Mangravita of Macello, SA, in Panama, the U.S. visit and USMEF product showcase showed them that there are different production models than those they have seen in their home countries.
"We don't have (meat processing) plants like this," Mangravita said. "We don't have new machines like this. The future of Central American meat processing is here right now. For me, this is a very good experience to develop new suppliers."
The reaction from the 21 U.S. companies with displays was even more enthusiastic.
"This is probably the best small show for business leads I have been to in the last 15 years," said Michael Warne, regional sales manager for Daniele Foods in Rhode Island. "It has been outstanding. We have managed to reach target markets that we've been looking to export to. These are quality buyers, and we have the products they're interested in."
"This is the best trip," she said. "Before, I just used to buy primal cuts (for further processing in the Dominican Republic), but after visiting the meat plants and seeing how the U.S. industry handles production, now I can buy sub-primals to open new markets. Now I can give new choices to my sales people."
The positive response on both sides did not go unnoticed by USMEF's producer members.
"The presence of all the international visitors from literally around the world is awesome and deeply appreciated by us who produce livestock because of what the export market is doing for the price," said North Dakota cattle producer Jerry Effertz.
"One of the primary missions for USMEF is to bring buyers and sellers together in an effort to create value," said Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president for global marketing and communications. "While we only hold the worldwide product showcase every other year, we do hold regional showcases."
The next regional event – USMEF's 4th Latin American Showcase – is scheduled for July 16-17 in Lima, Peru. U.S. companies interested in participating in the Latin American Showcase should contact Tammy Connolly at 303-623-6328 or firstname.lastname@example.org for registration information.