A USMEF team of European buyers — funded by the Beef Promotion and Research Council of Texas — recently visited the U.S. for a detailed tour of the U.S. beef industry. In a departure from past European trade teams, this activity focused on wholesalers and distributors, rather than chefs or direct importers. As U.S. producers and exporters well know, the EU is a challenging market with restrictions and constraints that often discourage importers, reducing the number of customers familiar with U.S. beef.
“Because U.S. beef is a niche product and a very high-end product in Europe, wholesalers and distributors need to see the story behind U.S. beef so they can learn why it is so special and pass that knowledge to their clients in their home countries.” commented Yuri Barutkin, USMEF representative for Europe, Russia and Central Asia.
USMEF continues to work with existing importers by supporting initiatives and projects, but for U.S. beef to reach the greatest number of consumers, USMEF’s strategy is to develop relationships with national food service distributors and wholesalers in all the markets of Europe. Several of these national distributors joined the USMEF buyers team, coming to the U.S. to familiarize themselves with U.S. beef products and left equipped with the practical knowledge needed to sell them in their home markets.
“Apart from just showing them the slaughter facilities, farms and feedlots, we also paid a lot of attention to the science,” said Barutkin. “We were hosted by the University of Nebraska where the team could get the scientific knowledge behind U.S. beef. We were determined to give more information about alternative cuts and the way they’re used in the United States. Through gastronomical and culinary experiences with alternative cuts, we can achieve much more in the European market, maximizing the value of the carcasses that we sell in the European Union.”
USMEF is also targeting newer markets in Europe where U.S. beef’s presence has been limited so far. Developing selected markets in central, southern and eastern Europe and parts of Scandinavia and introducing new target accounts to U.S. beef have a big impact on beef sales to Europe. Where U.S. beef’s penetration is still very low, greater gains can be made with limited use of resources.
This European buyers trade mission focused on distributors and wholesalers from the Baltic nations — Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania — as well as Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic. Most of the buyers on the mission already work with U.S. beef through an existing importer, but their presence on the team allowed them to learn more about U.S. cuts they sell and other products they don’t currently offer. The representative from Sweden has purchased U.S. beef in considerable quantities but was eager to increase and improve his dealings with the U.S. beef industry.
One team member — Thomas Odgaard Jorgensen, NoriDane Foods AS — was a buyer from Norway – a country outside the EU that maintains the community’s ban on beef from cattle treated with growth promotants. Norway’s high tariffs on U.S. beef imports add to the necessity of teaching Norwegian importers about alternative beef cuts.
The mission was an unqualified success, as the participants were delighted to see U.S. beef production from farm to fork. They appreciated the science, passion, labor and love behind the scenes and they made important contacts with U.S. producers. Ana Maria Florescu of the Romanian company De Silva Exclusiv commented:
“I am grateful that I had the opportunity to learn so many new and interesting thinks about U.S. beef, to see and understand the entire process and the U.S. market, from the beef ranches to some of the greatest plants in U.S. and of course the tastings, demonstrations and lectures on U.S. beef.”
At Where Food Comes From, the team met with Director of Operational Analysis and Marketing Kathryn Britton, who briefed them on the importance of traceability and source verification programs. The group then visited the Winkler Ranch, in the shadow of Pikes Peak. They were especially interested in this ranch because it is an approved participant in the USDA’s Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) Program and meat from the ranch is eligible to ship to the EU.
In a visit to Omaha, the team visited two USMEF member packing plants — JBS and Greater Omaha Packing Company — that produce beef approved for export to the EU.
The team also received a cutting demonstration at the Beef Culinary Center at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association headquarters in Centennial, Colorado, and made several retail visits to see merchandising techniques for U.S. beef.
Bulgarian buyer Ivaylo Rushev of Tandem-Popovo Ltd. in Sofia, commented that “this trip was tailor-made to my needs and gave me a deeper understanding of what U.S. beef is all about. It gave me a lot of knowledge that I can use directly into my marketing campaigns for instance.”