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Processed food to Japan

(Last updated: 21 August 2013)

Trends and opportunities

The market

The processed food sector covers a diverse range of products - from simple raw fruits and vegetables to ready-to-eat meal solutions. This sector also includes canned preserved food and a broad range of products used for ingredients.

Japan has suffered from a number of food safety problems including false labeling of products affecting both domestic and imported products. Therefore, food safety and traceability are becoming increasingly important to Japanese consumers. Australia has enjoyed an outstanding reputation among food importers and Japanese consumers as a supplier of safe and healthy, quality food.

The Japanese market is dominated by a small number of local wholesalers who retain a large market share. Manufacturers and importers have historically used these wholesaler distribution networks to deliver products to Japanese retailers and consumers.

Consumer buying patterns continue to influence demand, procurement and marketing. Other noteworthy trends include:

  • Demographics: Two factors that cannot be ignored are Japan’s ageing population and the increasing number of single person households. These trends are increasing the demand for food products such as ready-to-eat meals.
  • New, unique and high quality: Wholesalers continue to seek new products that have the potential to create interest and excitement, using high quality and ‘uniqueness’ as marketing strategies. Often, these products have a small window of opportunity for success.
  • Cultural influence: There is a strong gift giving culture in Japan, driven by seasonal events such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, New Years and Obon. Food products that can be tailored to meet the high demand experienced during these seasonal periods are of great interest.
  • Natural: The natural and organic market continues to expand gradually and provides niche opportunities. Australian products in this area remain well regarded. Sales from online and television shopping networks have provided more opportunities, particularly for healthy, functional and anti-ageing products.
  • Sweets and snacks: Demand for confectionery remains high. A wide selection of sweets and snacks are available, with the focus on quality rather than the overall size of the product.
  • Demand for healthy food is increasing due to the ageing population and the growing awareness among consumers looking at the health aspects of food products.

Australia currently exports a wide range of processed food products such as:

  • Confectionery
  • Gourmet food
  • Honey
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Cheese
  • Ingredients for food production

Australia is in a unique position to capitalise on this market by taking advantage of Australia’s ‘clean, green, and safe’ image with Japanese consumers. However, many Japanese importers have raised concerns regarding the price competitiveness of Australian products making it difficult to sell into the larger consumer market.

For further information please download 'Food and beverage to Japan: preparing for the Japanese market' (PDF, 1.2MB).

For additional information about alcoholic beverages, please refer to the JETRO Guidebook for Export to Japan on Alcoholic Beverages.

For additional information about Health/Functional foods and supplements, please refer to 'Health and Functional Foods to Japan' (PDF, 473KB).

For additional information about packaged food products, please refer to 'Austrade Tokyo Retail Project Report' (PDF, 329KB) on packaged food products.

Opportunities

Japanese processors, wholesalers, restaurant chains, supermarkets and convenience stores are all interested in safe, price-competitive and value-added products from overseas.

There is a growing demand for high quality and uniquely packaged food products in Japan’s major cities. While Japan’s overall population continues to decline, Tokyo’s population is expected to expand through to 2020.

Patrons of up-market Japanese supermarkets are not limited to a specific age group or gender. These consumers are savvy and are prepared to pay higher prices for those products that help promote a certain lifestyle and image.

Opportunities for Australian processed foods suppliers include:

  • Processed products based on crops, meat, dairy, grains
  • Products that offer unique attributes and selling points
  • Gourmet food products with good quality packaging
  • Products with longer shelf lives
  • Use of natural ingredients which minimise additives and preservatives
  • Products that have traceability
  • Products that can be adapted and tailored to suit Japanese buyers’ specifications

Competitive environment

Australia has a competitive advantage in being a large supplier of raw materials for food products and a large number of domestic manufacturers source ingredients such as dairy products, wheat, crops and fruit from Australia.

With the strong appeal of the Western lifestyle, Japanese consumers are purchasing imported food products from department stores, specialty food stores, supermarkets and online.

Australian confectionery products such as Tim Tams and macadamia nut chocolates, and gourmet products such as honey and cheese crackers, have established a mid to high-end market presence.

Tariffs, regulations and customs

Japanese importers are responsible for ensuring that imported products comply with the relevant regulations. Regulations applicable to imported processed food include:

Note: Note: While the Japanese importer is generally responsible for ensuring imported products comply with regulations, exporters should be aware that this is not always the case and check whether any contract places the legal responsibility for regulations with them.

Depending on the product, any of the following may be required as part of Japanese customs procedures:

  • Certificates of origin for major ingredients used
  • Specification of colours, preservatives and additives
  • A list of all ingredients with the percentage breakdown
  • Product process information
  • Laboratory test results – types of test vary according to the nature of the products
  • Factory production quality control record
  • Chemical residue applied to crops used as ingredients
  • Other certifications such as AQIS documents
  • Tariffs on processed food vary according to products, ingredients, and the degree of processing
  • Tariff quotas apply to some products

More complex, processed foods with many ingredients and/or production processes may require very detailed information.

Marketing your products and services

Market entry

The economic difficulties faced by Japan since the 1990s have forced the processed food industry to review their traditional operational methods and to seek a new competitive advantage, including importing supplies from overseas. Recent trends have seen firms react to the pressures of high cost local production by seeking sub-contractors or relocating production plants offshore.

A number of Australian food and beverage companies have achieved success in Japan by having a good understanding of the market, meeting the requirements for Japanese government import approvals, ensuring products are unique and competitively priced and forming good working relationships with Japanese partners.

Australia’s geographical location is one of the keys to achieving success in Japan. Australian companies can take advantage of counter-seasonal production, similar time zones and frequent flights direct to major Japanese business centres such as Tokyo and Osaka.

The processed foods sector is very competitive, so it is essential to:

  • Draw up a comprehensive export-marketing plan covering target segments, strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities
  • Find the right partner (importer or distributor) and establish the foundations for a long-term relationship
  • Ensure that you exercise stringent quality control on your product, especially in terms of product safety
  • Ensure that you can supply consistent quantities within agreed timeframes
  • Demonstrate a willingness to support promotional activities to market your product

Potential buyers of processed foods include:

  • Existing importers or distributors for processed foods
  • Japanese food manufacturers
  • Japanese food service industry for pre-cooked meals and sauces
  • Supermarkets as suppliers of their own private labels

Japanese purchasers appreciate approaches that are well researched and have an understanding of the specific sector’s dynamics, as well as an appreciation for the competitive nature of the market. Australia has a very good image in the minds of consumers as a ‘clean and green’ country, and as such, can benefit from strategic marketing which builds on these qualities.

The Japanese processed food market is very sophisticated, catering for increasingly quality and price conscious consumers. The population is also ageing and becoming more health-conscious, which is leading to increased potential for products stressing health benefits and demonstrable lower chemical and or organic status.

Importers seek detailed information regarding the product’s inputs and to gain an understanding of production capability/capacity. This is especially true for products with traceability and organic components. It is essential to prepare detailed information about company owners, management and top-level staff to demonstrate continuity of management and quality control practices.

It is important that any contracts and business documents are fully understood by both sides as it is sometimes challenging for those unfamiliar with the environment to communicate effectively with Japanese companies.

Depending on the product, there is an increasing number of opportunities to provide products via the internet. It is of paramount importance that any website information is available in Japanese for both business to business and business to consumer sales.

Distribution channels

The traditional distribution channels for processed food are multi-layered and relatively complex with personal, historical and financial relations playing their part in the decision making process.

Distribution channels are becoming more simplified as the larger trading companies are bypassed by importers. Each product in the food and beverage industry has its own specialised wholesaler. You will need to investigate the market, competition, regulations, and available channels to determine the best route to distribute your products.

Links and industry contacts

Government, business and trade resources for Japan

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan – www.maff.go.jp/e/index.html
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (JAS organic law) – www.maff.go.jp/e/jas/index.html
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Food Sanitation Law – www.mhlw.go.jp/english/topics/importedfoods/index.html

Australian resources

Japan External Trade Organization – www.jetro.go.jp/australia

Contact details

The Australian Trade Commission – Austrade – contributes to Australia's economic prosperity by helping Australian businesses, education institutions, tourism operators, governments and citizens as they:

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Austrade provides information and advice that can help you reduce the time, cost and risk of exporting. We also administer the Export Market Development Grant Scheme and offer a range of services to Australian exporters in growth and emerging markets.

For more information on how Austrade can assist you, contact us on:

Australia ph: 13 28 78 | Email: info@austrade.gov.au

A list of Austrade offices (in alphabetical order of country) is also available.

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