A dozen leaders of state and national agriculture organizations from around the United States have embarked on a visit to the Middle East and Europe organized by the U.S. Meat Export Federation to develop a deeper understanding of the potential of these two export markets for U.S. beef, pork and lamb.
The largest food industry trade show in the Middle East, the Gulfood Show in Dubai, was the first stop for the group, which includes representatives from the Cattlemen's Beef Board, United Soybean Board, Illinois Corn Marketing Board, Iowa Corn Growers Association/Iowa Corn Promotion Board, Nebraska Corn Board, Montana Beef Council and Merck Animal Health.
"Gulfood is like the Oscars for our industry," said John Chihade, president of Chihade International, Inc., an Atlanta-based exporter who has been exporting to the Middle East region for more than a decade and is participating in the 2014 show. "We get to see our customers and our vendors all in one location in a market that continues growing."
The Middle East region on display at Gulfood is a stable trading partner for the U.S. beef industry, the No. 4 market in volume during 2013 purchasing 147,696 metric tons of product valued at $276.2 million.
The region combines Egypt, the world's leading market for U.S. beef variety meat, and the United Arab Emirates, which is almost exclusively a market for U.S. muscle cuts and higher-value beef that grew 11% in value last year to $54.6 million.
It is a smaller market for U.S. pork, although it grew 27% in volume and 50% in value last year, largely on sales to the UAE, which hosts numerous business travelers and tourists.
Thomas Das, vice chairman and managing director of FANTCO, a leading importer based in Dubai, said Australian beef is the primary competitor to the United States in the region, although the competition is based more on price than quality.
"The UAE is growing and has big potential for continued growth," said Das, who helped bring the product to an estimated 110 five-star hotels in the region.
The Gulfood 2014 show, which ran through Feb. 27, included 4,500 exhibiting companies and 120 national pavilions representing countries from the United States to Colombia to the Ukraine to Singapore.
"Maybe 20 years ago, the Middle East wasn't looked at as much of a volume market," said Keith Obermiller, international sales manager for American Foods Group of Green Bay, Wis. "But the UAE is unique in this area. Its beef demand is more advanced and diverse, and disposable income continues to rise. And U.S. beef is very much appreciated here."
Members of the USMEF Market Expo team included Kim Brackett of the Cattlemen's Beef Board, from Williams, Calif.; Mark Caspers from Nebraska Soybean Board in Auburn, Neb.; Annie Dee from United Soybean Board in Aliceville, Ala.; Don Duvall from Illinois Corn Marketing board in Carmi, Ill.; Sam Funk from United Soybean board in Defiance, Mo.; Wayne Humphreys from Iowa Corn Growers Association/Iowa Corn Promotion Board in Columbus Junction, Iowa; Don Hutchens from Nebraska Corn Board in Lincoln, Neb.; USMEF Chairman Mark Jagels from Davenport, Neb.; Don Murphy from Illinois Corn Marketing Board in Harvel, Ill.; Wes Plummer from Montana Beef Council in Kalispell, Mont.; Judson Vasconcelos from Merck Animal Health in Summit, N.J., and Robert White Jr. from United Soybean Board in Virginia Beach, Va.
In addition to attending the Gulfood Show, the team received briefings on the region from USMEF staff, met with importers, distributors and retailers in the region, and traveled to Europe for briefings on the market potential of the EU region and tours of several meat processing plants and livestock operations.