Thailand-based meat exporter opens Omaha office

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Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:00 am

There is a new buyer in Omaha for Nebraska meat — an exporter to Asian markets aiming to expand from a sales office into full-scale processing and packaging.

Thailand-based New Grand Ocean International opened its first U.S. office Wednesday at 11712 West Dodge Road with a 9 a.m. ceremony scheduled to include Gov. Dave Heineman and other government and business officials.

The initial thrust is modest, with about a half-dozen employees soon to be buying and shipping Nebraska beef, pork and chicken for export to Asia. That's where New Grand Ocean cuts and packages the meat for sale to restaurant and grocery distributors throughout Asia, said Harry Hou, a company vice president.

Within two years, Hou said, if everything works out, the plan is to expand into processing. That would mean about two dozen new jobs for people who would cut and package the goods in Omaha as opposed to shipping them overseas for the finishing work.

“Nebraska beef, pork and chicken is some of the best in the nation, and even the world,” said Hou, a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Exports are big business for Nebraska and Iowa farmers and ranchers.

Nebraska beef exports in Top 25 categories in 2011 amounted to $782 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Pork exports on the same basis amounted to an additional $467 million. For Iowa, pork exports on the same basis were worth $1.5 billion in 2011, while frozen boneless beef exports totaled $119 million.

“Exports are extremely important,” said Ann Marie Bosshamer, executive director of the Nebraska Beef Council. “We are always happy to have new markets that bring additional business.”

China native Hou and his family own New Grand Ocean. He said the company has annual revenue of about $45 million and is a leading wholesale meat supplier in Asia.

The company sells to distributors in Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and other Asian nations, employing about 200 people at a plant in Bangkok, Hou said. Meat bought in Nebraska, Hou said, will be trucked to Los Angeles and moved by ocean freighter to Bangkok.

Many of the cuts of meat New Grand Ocean wants are unfamiliar to American consumers, Hou said. They include chicken gizzards, beef tongue and pork ears.

“They are indispensable to Asian cuisine,” he said.

Many cultures throughout the world have gone through periods when waste was a poor option, leading to a rich tradition of nose-to-tail consumption. Some of the preparations sound odd today, but not to many Asian cooks who still abide by the old standards.

“Pig's ear is cooked, shredded and served cold with a spicy dressing,” writes author Katharine Rogers in a section on Asian cooking in “Pork: A Global History,” published in 2012. “The brain is deep fried in batter.”

Most American ranchers, farmers and animal processors, Hou said, are ignorant of such applications and have no idea how to cut and package such parts to appeal to Asian buyers.

That is why, he said, New Grand Ocean will start out by shipping directly to Asia with no intermediate stops. Later, he said, work done on the goods in Thailand might be moved to Omaha, creating the new jobs.

“We are excited to welcome New Grand Ocean International into Nebraska,” said Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. “It is wonderful that this company has taken an interest in the Nebraska agricultural industry, and we look forward to working with them to continue improving Nebraska's exports into the Asian marketplace.”

Overseas markets are thawing for U.S. meat. Last month, Japan eased its restrictions on beef imports.

As for China, the fastest-growing economy, that is a different story. The world's most populous nation bans imports of U.S. beef. An increase in Chinese beef consumption to even one-fourth of what the U.S. consumes would be worth about 17 billion additional pounds per year, or almost six times the current annual value of all U.S. beef exports. Hou said a lift on the Chinese ban of U.S. beef is the fondest hope of everyone in the business.

“It would be the biggest market by far,” he said. “We are ready to go.”

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