How do you establish a reputation for high quality and cost competitiveness for U.S. beef products in a foreign market where high tariffs and other trade requirements generally keep potential customers away?

In ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), the problem faced by U.S. Meat Export Federation was that in the highly fragmented food service industry, most chefs saw U.S. product as the most expensive raw product they could use. To underscore this perception, most importers promoted only strip loin and ribeye steak to these potential customers. Finally, purchasing power is low, increasing the challenge of introducing new and affordable items.

Adding to the challenge, trimmings and cuts from the chuck and round -comprising 66 percent of total carcass weight - had decreased dramatically in value in the U.S. As beef producers began to focus their checkoff efforts on how to make money from the whole beef carcass, ensuring that the chuck and round positively contributed to the total carcass value became a key beef industry strategy. And USMEF was asked to increase its emphasis of promoting products from these primals.

Using a mix of USDA Emerging Market Program funding and beef checkoff dollars, USMEF Singapore office started a rigorous program of chef training in the developing markets of China, Philippines, Indonesia,
Thailand and Malaysia. These efforts began with the hiring of the first USMEF in-house chef, Sabrina Yin, a native Singaporean with extensive experience both in Chinese and western cooking.

Chef Yin worked with USMEF-Singapore staff to develop an intensive three-day chef training course that allowed critical hands-on U.S. beef exposure, as well as classroom training in handling, food safety and U.S. meat specifications. The objective of the training was to demonstrate to target accounts the profitability of a wider range of U.S. beef cuts, mostly more affordable non-loin cuts. And, depending on the homeland of the participants, different U.S. meat items were selected according to each market's particular preferences and the foodservice operator's profile.

A notable success as the result of this effort is the Hard Rock Café, with outlets in Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta and Malaysia. Hard Rock now includes on its "All Time Favourites" menu dishes like "BBQ U.S. Beef Fingers," "Braised U.S. Beef Steak" (using heel muscle), "Roasted U.S. Top Sirloin Steak" (using top sirloin butt cap) and " Grilled U.S. Top Blade Steak" (using top blade muscle). In addition, Hard Rock recently introduced a "Sirloin Steak Sandwich" (using sirloin butt steak) to its a la carte menu.

The six Amigos restaurants in Jakarta now include U.S. Top Blade and U.S. Hanging Tender steaks on their menus and periodically promote them to increase awareness. This group worked with Chef Yin to develop several exclusive recipes and allowed her significant control of the dishes they promoted.

Chef Yin continues to work with USMEF to further develop and refine the chef training program. Realizing that classroom training did not always allow USMEF to appreciate the particular operational constraints of each participant's outlet, a second phase of this program brings the training to target accounts in each market. A special feature of these trips is that a simple cutting and cooking demonstration is done with small groups of chefs and local importers to reinforce the attributes of non-premium U.S. cuts.

Chef Yin then works with each target account on important featuring aspects, such as menuing.

A key prerequisite of the program is to gain the cooperation of the importers, since USMEF must assure that once a restaurant agrees to feature a new item, an importer is able to supply the product. Importers serving the target-account foodservice outlets in each market have been invited to the U.S. on buying teams to meet with exporters and develop commercial relationships. These relationships often start with the importation of samples and then evolve into regular shipments of targeted items.

Efforts, such as this one in ASEAN countries, help explain why more than 80 percent of beef products exported are from cuts that are considered underutilized in the U.S. market and why, worldwide, beef exports are expected to be up 15 percent by volume and up 20 percent by value over 1999.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is the trade association responsible for developing international markets for the U.S. red meat industry and is funded by USDA, exporting companies, and the beef, pork, corn, sorghum and soybean checkoff programs.

U.S. Meat Export Federation