Over the past year, you’d be hard-pressed to find a hotter market for U.S. beef than Chile, where exports have quadrupled in value and increased even more in volume. To further capitalize on this momentum, the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) recently held educational seminars in the capital city of Santiago – one for importers and distributors and a second for Chile’s leading hotel and restaurant chefs. These events were made possible through checkoff support from the Texas Beef Council and additional funding from the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service office in Santiago.

Upon reopening to U.S. beef in 2008, Chile imported 67 metric tons (mt) valued at about $567,000. By 2010, trade had grown to 1,000 mt valued at $5.6 million. U.S. beef was poised for a breakout year in 2011, and the addition of new USMEF representation in the region (Lima, Peru-based Jessica Julca) and the lockout of beef imports from Paraguay due to foot-and-mouth disease helped fuel a surge in U.S. sales. Momentum began to build in the fall, as U.S. beef exports to Chile averaged about $3 million/month from September through November. In December, exports totaled $4.6 million – more than 80% of the previous high for an entire calendar year. 

BEEF Video: USMEF Shares Its Beef Export Outlook

With U.S. beef gaining a strong foothold in Chile, exports haven’t skipped a beat in 2012. Through July, exports were 347% ahead of last year’s pace in volume (6,600 mt) and 295% higher in value ($31.4 million, or an average of about $4.5 million/month.) 

“U.S. beef market share in Chile has tripled over the past year, from about 2% to more than 6%,” Julca says. “But more importantly, the U.S. is becoming well-known here as a reliable supplier of quality muscle cuts. We’re exporting more beef muscle cuts to several markets in this region, but Chile is definitely the pacesetter.”

At the seminar aimed at importers and distributors, Dale Woerner, Colorado State University assistant professor in the Center for Meat Safety and Quality, provided an overview of U.S. beef production, processing and grading systems for attendees. Following the seminar, the group enjoyed a buffet featuring U.S. short ribs prepared by the executive chef from the Intercontinental Hotel in Santiago.

The seminar targeting chefs was held at INACAP, a technical school in Santiago that offers a very highly regarded culinary program. For this program, Woerner focused on the outside skirt, ribeye and knuckle, demonstrating the versatility of these cuts. The session also included a product tasting.

About 30 chefs were in attendance, including instructors and former students from INACAP. In addition to those chefs who attended, INACAP also assisted USMEF in reaching out to a wide database of chefs and foodservice professionals throughout Chile.

“Meat buyers and foodservice professionals in Chile are intrigued by the traction U.S. beef has gained here,” Julca says. “Clearly their clientele has responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner because demand for U.S. beef is very strong. But it is important that we continue to provide them with the information and tools they need, so that we can develop an even larger and more loyal customer base in Chile.”