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28 February 2022

A wide world of meat products to discover

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5 min.
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Jesús Centenera. Managing Partner of Agerón Internacional

Livestock farming in Spain has undergone a transformation that, although progressive over decades, is no less radical. The first change has been professionalization, moving from a traditional approach to more industrial techniques, from slaughtering in the village for local consumption and sale, to productive industries to supply the population of cities throughout the country.

The second is the growth of some operators, gaining size and capacity to be more competitive, achieving economies of scale and spreading the fixed costs of the necessary investments among a larger number of customers. It has been a struggle for survival, which has led to the creation of powerful family businesses, diversified cooperative groups and multinationals, with Spanish capital or foreign investors betting on quality and local know-how.

Then, the improvement of food safety, with all the traceability systems implemented since the transposition of the European regulations to the Spanish legislation, which give security to the consumer, like few countries in the world, "From Farm to Fork", as the common slogan of the European promotion campaigns says. It is really something to be proud of the evolution in this aspect of the primary livestock sector and the processing industry.

The key word is "Quality", from selected livestock breeds to the mass production of other animals, from animal welfare to veterinary controls, passing through the control in the processing industries of all types of animals for consumption, reaching the sale to the consumer maintaining the cold chain and with a concern for sustainability. An integrated system in which farmers, processors, distribution, associations, and administrations, from local and regional to state and European, have collaborated.

In addition to all these changes, the internationalization of the sector is striking, with astonishing growth in the last three decades. Once the internal barriers within the European Union were reduced, both in terms of tariffs and technical barriers, it was logical that there should be a specialization by country, of which Spain has been strongly favored. The introduction of the single currency, the euro, has only favored the trend, not only because of the disappearance of the exchange risk, but also because of the ease of comparison and the agility of transactions.

This expansion was to be expected for a quality, well-sized and competitive industry in a single market such as the European one, but competitiveness in third markets did not have to be automatic as well. And yet this has also been a success story for the Spanish meat processing industry. If we look back, in twenty years it has gone from some 1.4 billion euros in exports to the whole world to a total of some 8.1 billion euros in 2021 (up to November). And in that figure, we have to highlight that, among the top ten markets, we find countries such as China (the first), Japan (the fifth), South Korea (the sixth), and the Philippines (the eighth), with a total of 3,665 million euros, four countries equivalent to 45% of the total. Although at a greater distance and with lesser amounts, we cannot fail to mention other interesting non-EU markets, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, the United States, Mexico and Canada, or the more distant South Africa, Singapore, Vietnam, and Chile.

It is also noteworthy that these sales are not only of very large multinational companies with Spanish capital but are the aggregate of many medium-sized family companies and cooperatives, which are disputing Asian and North American markets on an equal footing with other producing countries.

But we cannot fall into the triumphalism of the achievements obtained in a generation and a half, because there are undoubtedly some elements to improve. First of all, we must be careful with purchases from China, which are somewhat cyclical and could decrease, so prudence advises diversifying by means of a greater presence in other markets. Secondly, there is still a primacy of pork, since only recently other markets have been opening for cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, etc., with the Ministry working on the necessary approvals. Thirdly, because there are still many, very many companies that could compete beyond shipments to Europe, exporting to third countries, but that still do not dare to break the glass ceiling of targeting other more distant markets. Fourthly, because internationalization begins with exports, but does not stop there, but has a higher stage of productive investment abroad with Spanish capital. Very recently there was news of a large Catalan group investing in Mexico to improve the local exploitation of the entire production chain and, like this, there are many opportunities.

Finally, we know that the meat sector has undergone an internal transformation and an excellent international projection, but it is still far from the prestige and consolidation of other agri-food sectors such as olive oil or wine, which mark the path to be followed, consisting of a combination of unwavering quality in production, together with a powerful country brand image and product abroad, with strong promotional budgets. There is no doubt that future growth figures will be much more striking than those we have seen so far because the potential is so great.

For this reason, fairs like MEAT ATTRACTION are an excellent showcase to learn from each other, to see innovations, to encourage cooperation between companies, even fostering alliances and common promotional activities. And within them, we have an exceptional tool, professional meetings such as B2MEAT, where more than 40 importers from more than 15 countries meet with exporting companies. This is a very appropriate platform to get a glimpse of the world of meat products that still has a lot to show to those who are willing to work on it. We will be waiting for you there.