An overflow crowd of Central and South American red meat buyers converged on Antigua, Guatemala, last week for a chance to learn more about U.S. beef products and make direct connections with U.S. exporters at the U.S. Meat Export Federation’s (USMEF) Third Annual Latin American Product Showcase.
“The level of enthusiasm here is incredible,” said Howard Milner, owner of Mercer Meat Company of Dallas, who also attended the first two showcases in Panama in 2011 and last year in Colombia. “These customers are here because they want to buy our products.”
Milner was one of 36 U.S. exporters in attendance, up from 28 last year and 18 in the inaugural showcase. The number of buyers was up as well. The Guatemala show had 77 in attendance from 10 countries, although more would have attended had space allowed. About 50 attended the Colombia program.
“The show in Panama was good, the one in Bogota was great, and we think this one will turn out to be even better than that,” said Veronica Leon, vice president of sales for Northern Beef Industries in Corpus Christi, Texas. “Gerardo (Rodriguez of USMEF-Mexico) and Jessica (Julca of USMEF-Peru) are great. USMEF put together a program that helps everyone: the buyers, vendors and customers.”
“The value of these product showcases is that they bring U.S. red meat exporters together with buyers for two days in a setting without other distractions,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president of global marketing and communications. “Exporters can display their products and answer questions, and USMEF provides informational programs and cutting demonstrations to educate participants and help them see and feel the product to better appreciate its quality.”
Dale Woerner, Colorado State University assistant professor at the Center for Meat Safety and Quality, conducted a cutting demonstration and took questions from participants.
The USMEF Product Showcases have garnered impressive industry support. Sponsors this year included the Beef Checkoff Program, the Nebraska Beef Council, the Illinois Soybean Association and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP). The reason: the program produces results.
“This event provides a jump-start to the selling process,” said Milner. “For a trading company like mine to go and call on the number of customers that USMEF brings to this conference would cost at least 10 times what we’re spending to attend. And this conference draws the decision-makers.”
The presence of those decision-makers, Milner noted, also speeds up the time it takes to turn a prospect into a customer.
“Typically it takes six months after calling on a new customer before product begins to move,” he said. “With these motivated customers, I expect several will be buying within a month.”
Those motivated customers have helped Milner grow his small business appreciably since before the Panama showcase in 2011. Prior to that event, he was a one-person operation. After Panama he added two employees, with a fourth joining to help support the growing company after the Colombia event.
While no date or location has been finalized for the 2014 USMEF Product Showcase, Halstrom expects that it could well be the largest and most well-attended yet.
“We’re already getting questions about next year,” Halstrom said. “Business is going very well, and the interest is very strong from both sides.”
The Central/South America region has been a sector of solid growth for U.S. beef and pork exports this year. While overall beef exports for the first five months of 2013 are down 3 percent in volume and up 3 percent in value, exports to this region are up 4 percent in volume and 8 percent in value.