The Rib Bone Connects to the Foot Bone

Nov. 20, 2018

Do we profit from what we see as China's odd food preferences? Well, others profit from ours.

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

If you’re interested in the poultry business, you probably know that China is a big market for chicken feet. That’s a blessing for chicken processors, because otherwise not only couldn’t they give the things away, they’d have to pay to dispose of them. So it's a good thing that Chinese consumers have such different eating habits, right?

Well, guess what: That approach works in reverse.

At the recent Private Label Manufacturers Association show, one of the first booths I visited belonged to a packager of raw pork products, primarily ribs, which it supplies to several prominent foodservice chains. I asked the CEO whether the current trade war with China and other nations was lowering costs for her raw materials by increasing domestic supplies.

To my surprise, she told me that she imports most of her ribs from overseas, mostly Europe, in bulk and packages them. I was really surprised that she explained that importing ribs this way cost her company much less than it would have to pay domestic meatpackers.

It turns out that European meatpackers sell most of their production to China, and that the Chinese only want whole-flesh cuts like loins and pork bellies. They’re not interested in ribs, which is why the European packers consider them a byproduct and are glad to ship them off to the States at a bargain.

As she put it: “Americans are the only ones who will pay a lot of money for bones.”

They like feet, we like bones. And round and round we go.

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