Business / Corporate

Sushi machine maker upbeat about yen's fall, high overseas demand

by Naoko Fujimura and Takashi Amano


The global popularity of sushi, coupled with the yen’s 18 percent decline in the past six months, is proving to be a sweet spot for Suzumo Machinery Co., Japan’s biggest producer of automatic sushi-making machines.

The company plans to triple overseas sales to as many as 3,000 units from the last fiscal year and is boosting manufacturing capacity to meet demand in foreign markets, President Ikuya Oneda, 69, said Thursday.

“A weaker yen will make it easier for us to do business” abroad, Oneda said, adding that Suzumo may start taking payments in dollars, if customers request, as the Japanese currency weakens.

The firm’s new production line turning out the automatic chefs, which shape rice into blocks to serve with raw fish or other ingredients, will open around November at its plant in Saitama, according to Oneda. Orders for the machines are pouring in from South America, Europe and Asia, as global consumption of seafood is expected to jump by as much as 17 percent per person over the next two decades.

“Sushi is becoming popular, not just because of being a healthy choice but also for being inexpensive,” Oneda said in an interview at Suzumo’s headquarters in Tokyo. “Our machines are helping reduce labor costs (for clients).”

The maker, whose clients include the YO! Sushi chain in Britain, is looking to raise sales to ¥10 billion in the “midterm,” Oneda said, without elaborating. Net income is forecast at ¥510 million for the year that ended March 31, a 41 percent spike from ¥361 million in fiscal 2011, on total revenue of ¥6.85 billion, the company announced Feb. 6.

Suzumo, which commands more than 60 percent of the domestic sushi machine market, plans to double its sales staff for overseas markets to around 16 and to export its equipment to 100 countries in the new fiscal year, Oneda said.

The manufacturer, which employs around 260 people, in 2006 opened an office in Torrance, California, the city that hosts Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. sales unit. In the five years through 2010, the number of Japanese restaurants in the United States surged by more than 50 percent to 14,129, including 3,963 in California, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.

Global fish consumption may rise to 20 kg per person by 2030 from 17.1 kg in 2008, based on projections by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. “There seems to be a sushi boom everywhere in the globe,” said Makoto Sengoku, a market analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. “Suzumo is benefiting from it, as long as the boom continues.”

Britain currently has around 500 Japanese restaurants, up from 450 in 2011, based on estimates compiled by Eat-Japan, a London-based promoter of Japanese food. “Big sushi take-away chains are doing really well in the U.K. Every side street has a sushi restaurant in London,” said Yukiko Takahashi, Eat-Japan’s general manager.

And lots of these sushi takeout restaurants use rice-making machines produced by Suzumo and others, Takahashi noted.

Suzumo’s machine can produce 3,600 blocks of rice per hour, its website states, while another of its devices can churn out as many as 400 sushi rolls per hour. The company developed its first sushi-making equipment in 1981.