The holiday season is approaching in China, and shoppers and retailers alike are brimming with visions of pork – and, increasingly, of US pork.
"As the January lunar New Year approaches and the seasonal winter meat consumption period gets underway, the US Meat Export Federation's (USMEF) efforts to raise the visibility of US pork and its quality, safety and value are moving into high gear," said Joel Haggard, USMEF's senior vice president over the Asia-Pacific region.
Pork and overall meat consumption in China increases in the holiday period from late October through the end of January. With China's annual pork consumption estimated by USDA at more than 50 million metric tons (more than 110 billion pounds), the upcoming holiday period is circled on the calendars of US pork exporters.
The retail footprint of US pork in China has expanded since the first sliced bone-in butt portion-control steak products were introduced at select Shanghai retail stores this summer. Several US pork items are now available at major retail chains, including METRO Cash & Carry, RT Mart, Sam's Club and Auchan Supermarkets.
Last week, US pork was front and center at China's flagship Food and Hotel China (FHC) exhibition in Shanghai, where four US pork brands were prominently sampled and featured in front of thousands of industry visitors ranging from retailers and restaurant chains to wholesale distributors from third- and fourth-tier Chinese cities. Funding for the exhibition was provided through the Pork Checkoff and the USDA Market Access Program (MAP).
"We expanded our presence at FHC this year in recognition of US pork's growing retail presence, and the desire of importers and distributors to highlight American pork's attributes vis-à-vis that of the competition," said Ming Liang, USMEF's marketing director for China.
At FHC, USMEF sampled and gathered comments and opinions on a winter-specific retail product, thinly sliced pork butt for seasonal hot pot. Although beef and lamb are traditional hot pot favorites, sliced pork usage is expected to increase.
"This item has potential because we can feature it at lower prices than popular sliced domestic and Oceanic lamb, which have skyrocketed in price," said Ming.
Explosive growth in online marketing
USMEF also is investing in online marketing of US pork in China. With an 80 percent annual growth in online merchandise sales over the past five years, China is the fastest growing e-commerce market in the world.