Greater Omaha Packing was ready to roll when the USDA on Monday announced the final eligibility details for U.S. beef exports to China after a 13-year hiatus.
In the first of many orders from Chinese buyers, the company on Wednesday air-shipped about 5,000 pounds of steak — including ribeye and tenderloin — to its newest customers, said Angelo Fili, Greater Omaha executive vice president of sales.
In one day, the company put together a representative shipment of its products — not a huge shipment but enough to initially supply three or four grocery stores, he said.
The Chinese market is ripe for U.S. beef, with a long history of buying grain-fed beef from numerous countries, he said.
“The market is already established. I think they’re going to add U.S. beef to their offerings,” Fili said.
In 2016, China imported about 600,000 metric tons of beef valued at $2.6 billion, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
But U.S. beef wasn’t part of the mix, having been banned from the country since December 2003 when bovine spongiform encephalopathy was discovered in a Washington state dairy cow.
Greater Omaha already ships to 68 countries and tends to trade with niche customers, such as high-end steakhouses. A large volume of its production is set up to meet the importing criteria of those countries and individual customers, he said.
The company fills hundreds of orders daily, shipping 2.5 million to 3 million pounds a day. With product available and the ability to trace product through the plant, it was prepared to fill China’s first order and is prepared to fill many more, he said.
The company doesn’t raise cattle, but its producers have always been able to meet the required criteria for its customers, he said.
China’s requirements include animal traceability and a prohibition against the use of growth promotants.
“I think those animals will definitely be available. Our producers in Nebraska and Iowa are pretty quick to get things done and ready to go,” Fili said.
Buyers will dictate which type of products they want but with high-end producers and high-end products, Greater Omaha will be able to supply whatever they’re looking for, he said.
“We think this is a great opportunity. It’s obviously the largest market open to American agricultural products,” he said.
Beef consumption in China is far larger than it was when the market was closed to U.S. beef, and it provides a good opportunity for Greater Omaha products, he said.
“We think that good demand will go on for quite a while,” he said.
USDA has not replied to queries from Capital Press about how many U.S. companies are approved or have applied for approval to ship beef to China.