U.S. exports for table eggs and egg products set new records for volume and value in the first four months of this year, according to Jim Sumner, president, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council. This follows a strong 2011 for U.S. egg exports where records were set for both volume and value for an entire year. An estimated 275 million dozen eggs were exported from the U.S. in 2011, 30 percent more than the 10-year average for annual U.S. exports (see Graph 1).

Sumner told the audience at the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council annual meeting in San Diego that the export markets for eggs and egg products continues to grow. Hong Kong remains the largest export market for U.S. eggs, followed by Canada, but there are growth opportunities in many other countries. “We are also making progress in the Middle East,” he said. “We are getting significant volumes of shell eggs into Japan for the first time.” Sumner explained that Japan continues to be a big market for U.S. egg products exports, but it had not been a market for shell eggs until recently.

Sumner said that India is a market that has particular promise for U.S. poultry exporters. India’s markets for poultry products will eventually have to open to U.S. products, according to Sumner, because the demand in India is growing so fast that domestic production will not be able to keep up. In this scenario, imported poultry would supplement the increasing domestic production, not replace current production. The USA Poultry & Egg Export Council believes in using a collaborative approach for building demand in markets, and partners with the domestic poultry industries, according to Sumner. The idea is that if the market grows, then the domestic industry’s piece of the pie can be larger, even if it doesn’t get the whole pie.

In the EU, an opportunity exists now for U.S. eggs, which can serve as replacement for eggs lost during the transition of layers out of conventional cages. It is not known how long this opportunity will last.

While the growth in U.S. egg exports has not been completely linear, the trend has definitely been positive, and Sumner said that U.S. egg exports have gone from approximately 1.5 percent of total production in 1990 to 3.3 percent in 2011.

Opportunities in the Americas  

Andre Williamson, consulting market analyst, Agralytica, presented research on opportunities for poultry and egg exports from the U.S. to the Caribbean, Central America and South America. The research looked at 17 markets in these regions: the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and the Bahamas in the Caribbean, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Suriname, Columbia in South America, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America. The research did not look at markets in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

One reason the 17 markets included in this survey are considered to be good prospects for U.S. poultry exports is the growth of their economies. Williamson said that population growth in these countries has slowed from approximately 2 percent per year in 1996 to 1 to 1.5 percent per year. The economies of these countries are now growing at a rate that exceeds the rate of population growth. Per capita income is growing, and this increased income can be spent on upgraded diets.

Another reason for optimism regarding U.S. poultry trade to these countries are the trade agreements already in place. There are free trade agreements between the U.S. and Panama, Columbia and Peru, in addition to the Central American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Exports are small, but growing fast  

In the last five years, the value of U.S. poultry exports to these 17 markets has almost tripled to $284 million, Williamson reported. He said that most of these countries have high costs for raising poultry, primarily because of high grain prices. In spite of the high costs, there has been growth in chicken and egg consumption in these markets. There is also an opportunity to expand the use of processed eggs and poultry in these markets.

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Egg exports from the U.S. were 8.5, 2.7 and 0.8 thousand metric tons to the Caribbean, Central America and South America, respectively, in 2011. Much of this volume is in hatching eggs, but the hatching egg volume has been in decline, and processed and shell eggs are on the increase. The value of U.S. egg exports to these three regions was $3.4 million and $0.64 million for processed eggs and table eggs, respectively, in 2011.

Most processed egg products are purchased by large industrial users, but there is some foodservice use. The Caribbean and Central America are the biggest importers of egg products from the U.S. with purchases of $1.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively, in 2011.

Williamson said that the total export market for processed egg products to these 17 markets is now 2,000 metric tons, and the U.S. has approximately 60 percent market share. The main competitors are Canada in the Caribbean, the EU in Central America, and Argentina, which has approximately a 20 percent market share in the South America markets covered in this research.

The egg products companies in these markets include Ovosur in Peru, Agricovial in Chile, Caribbean Producers in Jamaica, Pipasa in Costa Rica, Huevos Santa Reyes in Columbia, and Cutler in El Salvador. Some of the egg products' customers are sophisticated in these countries and are used to receiving technical specifications and testing data for the items that they purchase.

Williamson said that growth in the sale of processed egg products in these markets may come from converting small and medium sized processors over from shell eggs. Another growth opportunity in these markets for egg products could come from the foodservice sector, where use of egg products is not as widespread as it is in the U.S. The food safety issue may help to drive growth for processed egg products.

Rating the opportunities  

Williamson rated Columbia, Peru and Chile as the markets in South America that offer the greatest potential for U.S. egg exporters. Each of these countries have a large market for eggs, and U.S. exporters don’t have a big presence there now.

Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala were rated as the best prospects in Central America. Panama has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and U.S. products have acceptance in this market already. The rise of tourism in Panama and Costa Rica will also spur demand for eggs and egg products in these countries.

Within the Caribbean markets, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad show the best opportunity for growth of sales of egg products for U.S. egg exporters. The Caribbean region is currently the largest market in the Americas for U.S. egg exports. Williamson said that they see an opportunity for growth in exports of egg products for food service in the Caribbean, particularly in tourist areas, but limited opportunity for growth in egg product sales to food processors in this region.