The lucrative Asian markets are opening for Weld County’s beef cattle industry. Courtesy 15-Mile Ranch

Ranchers bullish on beef sales to Vietnam

A collaboration between an Elbert County ranch, the Greeley-based East Colorado Small Business Development Center and the state of Colorado could help open some lucrative Asian markets for Weld County’s beef cattle industry.

The initial outreach has been to Vietnam, said Craig Curl, an Elbert County-based business consultant for the East Colorado SBDC. Vietnam, Thailand and Burma (also known as Myanmar) are part of the world’s fastest developing region, accounting for about 221 million of Southeast Asia’s population. By 2019, Vietnam had risen to ninth place in the world for beef imports, accounting for $154 billion a year or 3.1% of the global market. With its hotel and restaurant industry bouncing back as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, U.S. food producers are optimistic about the prospects.

Curl had had 15-Mile Ranch in Elbert County as a client for more than 10 years. The ranch is owned by Dr. Joanna D. Meston and her husband, Chip Meston, but because she owns 51% of the business, Curl said, “we took her through the Minority Business Office,” part of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Because the ranch qualified as a woman-owned business, Curl said, “in 2019, they won the award to get up to $10,000 for a travel voucher. So they went to Vietnam through an economic discovery tour to meet and greet people in Vietnam and be a guest of the Vietnamese government for about 10 days.

“We met a number of processors and people who represent beef coming into Vietnam,” Curl said. “Most of the beef coming into Vietnam has been from Australia. They also had a big problem because they bought beef from China, but it was not beef — it was pork cured and flavored with beef extract to make it taste like beef. About the one kind of animal they can process locally is part of a herd that comes out of the water buffalo family.

“So they wanted to have us import cattle to Vietnam.”

To be able to meet the demand, 15 Mile Ranch contracted for and bought High Plains Processing LLC, a slaughterhouse facility in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

“It was rebuilt into a major facility that will handle 40 animals a day,” Curl said, “and it took until Feb. 1 of this year to get it up and running” and in compliance with U.S. Department of Agriculture rules to be licensed for exporting.

“We then struck a deal with a distributor group out of Texas to take 40,000 pounds of meat per week,” Curl said. “That will start in April and get up to speed by May 1. We’ve gotten contracts all through Southeast Asia. But Vietnam is the base. We have contacts there and potential sales there.”

He said ranchers interested in selling their products to Vietnam or other players in the Southeast Asian market can contact High Plains plant manager Rick Kingsbury at 505-434-2333.

“The plant is a Colorado-New Mexico product where the two governments have worked together,” Curl said. “We worked extensively with all of their counterparts in New Mexico to make this all happen.” Also involved was a business plan developed through students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Monfort College of Business in Greeley.

“There were so many different agencies, groups, moving parts,” Curl said. “It took a pure marketing directive just to get it to some sort of circular motion that gives you an end result.”

A major Colorado counterpart was the state Department of Agriculture, where senior international marketing specialist John Addison said “our aim is to help our companies find new markets for their products. We do a lot of trade shows around the world, where we set up Colorado pavilions.

“Meat is a very important commodity for us; we devote a lot of time to our meat industry,” Addison said. “When we encounter a trade barrier, we advocate to diminish it. When we can’t, we shift priorities to other markets. It’s a constant game of shifting priorities.”

Other barriers have been logistical. Meat can’t be packed in dry ice to be shipped by plane, Curl said, so refrigerated air freight will be used. If it were shipped by sea in refrigerated containers, the voyage would take three weeks — and then only after a trip by truck or train to ports such as Seattle, San Francisco or Long Beach.

“In Vietnam, beef is sold not only to the public but through hotels and restaurants, and it’s still pretty primitive in terms of distribution,” Curl said. “They put it on the back of scooters and run it all over the towns.”

A collaboration between an Elbert County ranch, the Greeley-based East Colorado Small Business Development Center and the state of Colorado could help open some lucrative Asian markets for Weld County’s beef cattle industry.

The initial outreach has been to Vietnam, said Craig Curl, an Elbert County-based business consultant for the East Colorado SBDC. Vietnam, Thailand and Burma (also known as Myanmar) are part of the world’s fastest developing region, accounting for about 221 million of Southeast Asia’s population. By 2019, Vietnam had risen to ninth place in the world for beef imports, accounting for $154 billion a year or 3.1% of the global market. With its hotel and restaurant industry bouncing back as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, U.S. food producers are optimistic about the prospects.

Curl had had 15-Mile Ranch in Elbert County as a client for more than 10 years. The ranch is owned by Dr. Joanna D. Meston and her husband, Chip Meston, but because she owns 51% of the business, Curl said, “we took her through the Minority Business Office,” part of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Because the ranch qualified as a woman-owned business, Curl said, “in 2019, they won the award to get up to $10,000 for a travel voucher. So they went to Vietnam through an economic discovery tour to meet and greet people in Vietnam and be a guest of the Vietnamese government for about 10 days.

“We met a number of processors and people who represent beef coming into Vietnam,” Curl…