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Processed food to Japan

(Last updated: 29 Oct 2014)

Trends and opportunities

The market

The processed food sector covers a diverse range of products – from lightly processed fruit and vegetables to ready-to-eat meals. The Japanese processed food market is very competitive and sophisticated, catering for increasingly quality and price conscious consumers.

Australia has an outstanding reputation among Japanese food importers and consumers as a supplier of safe, healthy and high quality food. With a strong attraction to the Western lifestyle, Japanese consumers are purchasing imported food products from department stores, specialty food stores, supermarkets and online. These consumers are willing to pay higher prices for products that promote a certain lifestyle and image.

Due to the pressures of high cost local production, firms are importing supplies from overseas, using sub-contractors or relocating production plants offshore.

Opportunities

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

Consumer buying patterns continue to influence demand, procurement and marketing. Trends and opportunities include:

  • Ageing Demographic: Japan’s ageing population and rising single person households is increasing the demand for food products such as ready-to-eat meals.
  • Unique products: Wholesalers look out for products that are ‘interesting’ for consumers. ‘Unique’ and ‘High quality’ attributes are seen as strong selling points and are often used in marketing strategies. For instance, in many cases, products with a distinct ‘Australian’ flavour or feature are at an advantage
  • Seasonal gifts: There is a strong gift culture in Japan around seasonal events such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, New Year and Obon. Opportunities are open for food products that can be tailored to meet this seasonal demand.
  • Natural products: The natural and organic market continues to gradually expand opening up new opportunities. The emphasis is on natural ingredients which minimise additives and preservatives. Australian products in this area remain well regarded in terms of quality. However, competitive pricing remains a challenge. 
  • Sweets and snacks: Demand for confectionery remains high with the focus on quality and uniqueness rather than the overall size of the product.
  • Health food: Demand for healthy food is increasing due to an ageing and more health conscious population. In response, Japanese manufacturers are focusing on healthy, functional and anti-ageing products.
  • Growing cities: There is a growing demand for high quality, gourmet and uniquely packaged food products in some of Japan’s major cities. For example, as Japan’s overall population continues to decline, Tokyo’s population is expected to expand.

Opportunities include:

  • Processed products based on crops, meat, dairy, grains.
  • Products with a shelf life of 12 months or longer.
  • Products that have traceability.
  • Products that can be adapted and tailored to suit Japanese buyers’ specifications.

Competitive environment

A large number of domestic manufacturers source ingredients such as dairy products, wheat, crops and fruit from Australia.

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

  • Confectionery eg Tim Tams and macadamia nut chocolates
  • Gourmet food
  • Honey
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Cheese
  • Ingredients for food production.

The Japanese processed food sector is very competitive. Australia is in a unique position to capitalise on its ‘clean, green and safe’ image and also has a competitive advantage in being a large supplier of raw materials for food products. 

However, many Japanese importers have raised concerns regarding the price competitiveness of Australian products, making it difficult to sell into the larger consumer market.

Japanese pharmaceutical companies have also entered the health food sector, making the market very competitive. These manufacturers are heavily advertising their brands in retail stores, through television and other media. 

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:

  • Food Sanitation Law
  • Japan Agricultural Standards
  • Product labelling regulations
  • Product liability law
  • Organic standards
  • Containers and packaging recycling law
  • Other regulations may apply in special cases.

Note: While Japanese importers are 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 tests vary according to the nature of the products.
  • Factory production quality control records.
  • 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

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.

It is essential for exporters to:

  • Draw up a comprehensive export-marketing plan covering target segments, strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities.
  • Find the right partner (importer or distributor who ideally has capability to distribute to wider networks throughout Japan) 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.
  • Communicate with importers in a timely manner.
  • Use an approach that is well researched and demonstrates to Japanese purchasers that you understand the sector’s dynamics and competitive market. 
  • Use strategic marketing that builds on Australia’s good image as a clean and green country. 
  • Be able to provide importers with detailed information regarding a product’s inputs and an understanding of production capability/capacity. Especially for products with traceability and organic components. 
  • Prepare detailed information about company owners, management and top-level staff to demonstrate continuity of management and quality control practices.
  • Make sure contracts and business documents are fully understood by both sides.  Communicating effectively with Japanese companies can sometimes be challenging.

Distribution channels

The Japanese market is dominated by a small number of local wholesalers. Manufacturers and importers have historically used these wholesalers to distribute products to Japanese retailers and consumers. 

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 simpler, as small to medium sized wholesalers merge to achieve economies of scale or bypass importers. Each product in the food and beverage industry has its own specialised wholesaler. It is important 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

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (JAS organic law) 
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Food Sanitation Law
Japan External Trade Organization
Food and beverage to Japan: preparing for the Japanese market
JETRO Guidebook for Export to Japan on Alcoholic Beverages

Please note: this list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only.

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:

  • develop international markets
  • win productive foreign direct investment
  • promote international education
  • strengthen Australia's tourism industry
  • seek consular and passport services.

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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