March 19, 2012

Nice to Meat and Zanderbergen

John Brook of USMEF shares information
on beef markets in the European Union.
MONDAY, MARCH 19, 2012: A day of "meatings" as we are joined by John Brook of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) who introduced us to a couple of companies that are leading the way for U.S. beef in the European Union.

Our first stop this morning was to a company called Nice to Meat, a niche marketer of premium meat products, including high quality U.S. beef. This is a relatively small company making a big impact in high-end beef markets. They obtain their Black Angus beef from Creekstone in the U.S. They recently obtained the contract to provide beef for Hilton Hotels throughout Europe, including the hamburger that appears on Hilton's "Classics" menu in all EU hotels—a contract that took two years to negotiate
Employees at Nice to Meat hand trim meat to provide its
customers with the high-end products the company is known for.

In cooperation with USMEF, the company is training Hilton chefs on how to make delicious meals from cuts of American beef that they typically have not used in the past. According to the company, 90% of the chefs only use about 15% of the beef carcass, concentrating on the strip loin, filet and rib eye. They are teaching chefs how to incorporate "secondary" cuts such as flank and short ribs to create great culinary dishes that are also affordable. They are also supplying the #1 TV celebrity chef in The Netherlands with U.S. beef for his show that reaches 1.5 million people.

According to John Brook, there is a significant focus on educating the marketplace about the value of marbling and its effect on the flavor, texture and enjoyment of beef. Europeans are rediscovering the taste of marbled beef and are starting to demand it.

Joris Zanderbergen speaks to the group about
his company's position as the largest
importer of beef into the EU.
Our second stop was at Zanderbergen, a family-owned company that is the largest importer of beef in the EU. This company imports some 65% of US. beef into Europe, and they also bring in beef from several other nations including Argentina and Brazil. They also distribute pork, lamb, sheep and poultry. Established 37 years ago as a butcher shop, Zanderbergen has grown into a huge company that imports, distributes and stores meat across the EU. They have an impressive cold storage unit that has a 30,000 metric ton capacity.

Interesting to note that European meat grading is based on the yield from a carcass. In other words, it's about how much lean meat can be produced from an animal. As a result, beef production in the EU has focused on leaner animals that produce lots of muscle and little fat. In the U.S., grading is focused on how the meat "eats"—a factor that is influenced by the level of marbling in the beef.

According to the Zanderbergens, high quality U.S. beef has "reawakened" interest in quality beef. Interesting that Sweden has the deepest market penetration of U.S. beef in Europe.

South American beef is more of a commodity. In fact, U.S. beef represents about 10% of the volume at Zanderbergen and about 25% of the value in terms of sales. Yet, they figure they invest about 75% of their time and effort in promoting U.S. beef to their customers. "We are happy with American beef!" they say.

Zanderbergen sources all of their U.S. beef from the IBP plant in Lexington, Nebraska.

A few key takeaways from today's visits:
One of the huge cold storage
units at Zanderbergen.
  • Both companies stressed quality and consistency with U.S. beef that is important to their customers. The fact that this beef is corn-fed is a huge factor to these customers—and in their minds, a significant difference-make in terms of quality and flavor.
  • Traceability came up at both locations. It's pretty clear that EU customers are looking for traceability—and marketing is all about providing what the customer wants. Other countries can provide it, and in doing so put the U.S. at a disadvantage. For example, we heard today that Chile and Uruguay are considered to be 100% reliable in what they do and how they report it.
  • Trade issues have a dramatic effect on meat imports into the EU. John shared some insights on what is happening in talks between the EU and the U.S. that have dramatic implications on beef imports. More on that in a later post.

An early wake-up call as we hit the road at 6 a.m. to head to Hamburg, Germany—with a visit to a swine farm and a pork production facility on the way.

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