An increasing number of farmers and food companies have been exporting products recently, as washoku (Japanese cuisine) enjoys a boom overseas.
Exports of agricultural, fishery and forestry products and related processed goods rose 7.6 percent in 2017 from the previous year to ¥807.3 billion, setting a record high for the fifth straight year.
With the value of food markets overseas estimated at ¥340 trillion in major countries alone, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Ken Saito has said exports serve as “a way out” at a time when Japan’s population is shrinking. The agriculture ministry is stepping up support for exporting food products, aiming to raise the annual value of exports to ¥1 trillion in 2019.
The cost of producing agricultural products domestically is high because of Japan’s limited availability of land suitable for farming. For example, a standard 60 kilogram bag of rice is roughly seven times more expensive in Japan than in the United States. But demand for Japanese rice has been increasing among affluent people overseas because of its high quality, which has underpinned the washoku boom especially in Asia and the United States.
The number of Japanese restaurants abroad has increased fivefold in the past 11 years to 118,000. Overseas food traders and retailers are eager to form partnerships with Japanese food makers without experience in exports. In October, about 300 domestic food makers and other companies exhibited products at a trade fair for Japanese food exports held in the city of Chiba. Some 13,000 buyers from around 70 countries visited the fair and showed strong interest in sweets, liquors and other products. Deals worth ¥13.1 billion were concluded.
The agriculture ministry supported the event to provide opportunities for small and midsize companies unable to afford attendance at trade fairs overseas to meet buyers from abroad. The fair in Chiba was the first such large-scale event specializing in food exports, a ministry official said.
One food maker served samples of an instant tonkotsu (pork bone-based noodle) product, hoping to take advantage of the effective absence of such products in China. A buyer from Singapore who was impressed by the taste of the noodles began talks with the company immediately.
A ministry questionnaire for exhibitors found that many had been asked to produce export-oriented products and packaging.
The development of food products matching the needs of overseas markets is essential to boost exports, as it is for industrial products, a senior ministry official said. The use of packaging labels in multiple languages and boxes that keep products fresh during transportation can also help increase exports, the official said. Some companies have already adopted new measures since the trade fair. For example, a sake brewery in Mobara, Chiba Prefecture, has started exporting its doburoku (raw sake) to Hong Kong after switching to a 750-milliliter bottle — the standard size for wine bottles — with an English-language label, instead of its conventional 500-milliliter bottle.
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