Fruit and vegetables to Japan
Trends and opportunities
The Japanese market for fresh fruit and vegetables has traditionally been dominated by domestic suppliers, with imports limited to a narrow range of products. Due to decreasing competitiveness in the domestic farm sector, global climate change, natural disasters and the opening up of the import market, Japan has steadily increased import volumes in order to secure sufficient supply to meet the country’s demand.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), self-sufficiency of food production in Japan remains relatively low - the rate on a calorific basis in 2014 was 39 per cent, the same percentage rate as in 2013, and the rate has remained the same in the past several years. Total supply on a calorific value per capita per day in 2014 was 73kcal (domestic supply, 56kcal) for vegetables and 61kcal (domestic supply, 22kcal) for fruit. This indicates that Japanese domestic vegetables account for majority of the calorific value, whereas imported fruits dominate over domestic grown in terms of calorific value, which means Japan relatively depend on imports on fruits. (Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Self-sufficiency 2014).
The change in demographics and eating patterns can also be attributed to the decline of vegetable consumption in the Japanese population. Market demand for vegetables for processing and food service is growing rapidly and the demand is now much greater than that of home cooking. The value of the cut vegetable market is estimated to be around JPY180 billion and has grown over the past few years, by approximately 30 per cent per year. (Source: Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation, Cut vegetable demand structure fact-finding investigation, p28, 2014).
With the increase of single occupancy households and a high demand for convenience, the variety of packed cut vegetables and fruit continue to expand in retail stores including convenient stores and portions of cut fruit is now sold in some vending machines.
The price remains higher for domestic fresh produce rather than imported, as Japanese farming efficiencies are lower than other countries, due to small production yields and high labour costs. Japanese demand for imported produce remains high, although there is still a niche market where consumers are willing to pay a higher price to support the domestic industry. Quality produce that is fresh and safe is absolutely essential to consumers and some consider domestic produce to fill this criteria.
Japanese growers have spent considerable time and energy in improving their products based on taste, appearance and development of production know-how to supply out of season produce.
Each growing region has their own brand of fresh vegetables, which adds value to sales and creates competition. In contrast, when selling vegetables for processing and food service, the price and consistency of large volumes of supply become more important than promoting brand names. Imported vegetables which are more price competitive, tend to satisfy this demand.
The total value of vegetables (HS code 07 which includes beans and peas) imported into Japan in 2014 was $A2.7 billion, an increase of 4.1 per cent compared to the previous year. In terms of value, China and the US, accounted for about 69 per cent of Japan’s total vegetable imports in 2014. The main imported categories were frozen and fresh vegetables including onions, carrots, cabbage and tomatoes.
Australia ranked 13th for vegetable exports to Japan, with a value of $A25 million, an increase of 11 per cent in the same year. Key vegetables exported from Australia to Japan are asparagus, onions, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and truffles, leeks and brussels sprouts. Other Australian vegetable exports which are growing from a small base include celery, lettuce, cabbage, frozen finger limes, and other frozen vegetables (Source: TradeMap – Trade statistics for international business development and Australian Bureau of Statistics).
The total value of fruit (HS code 08 which also includes dried fruit and nuts) imported into Japan in 2014 was $A3.3 billion, an increase of 7.1 per cent compared to the previous year. The main fruit imported into Japan in 2014 were bananas, nuts, citrus, grapefruits, grapes, pineapples, kiwifruits and stone fruits.
In terms of value, the US accounts for 32.5 per cent of Japan’s total fruit import in value followed by the Philippines, and those two countries accounted for about 62 per cent in 2014. In the same year, Australia ranked seventh for importing fruit into Japan, with a value of $A66 million, a decrease of 10 per cent compared to the previous year. Key fruit exports from Australia to Japan are Navel oranges, table grapes, Valencia oranges, mandarins, mangoes, cherries, lemons, grapefruit and dried grapes and mangoes (Source: TradeMap – Trade statistics for international business development and Australian Bureau of Statistics).
The US remains the top exporter to Japan for some products in the fresh vegetable and fruit sectors. However, China is growing as a major exporter due to its proximity to Japan and the fact that it is a low cost producing country. Australia is facing increased competition from Chilean and South African producers due to their location in the southern hemisphere and the fact that they can offer similar kinds of products at very competitive pricing.
Japanese consumers are interested in high quality, fresh, clean, safe and value-for-money produce from overseas. Potential opportunities for Australian fresh fruit and vegetables are:
- pumpkin (market access from 24 May 2016)
- lettuce, cabbage and cauliflower
- sweet corn
- zucchini (market access as of 24 May 2016).
- navel and valencia oranges
- murcott mandarins
- table grape
- cherries and apples (from Tasmania only)
- varieties of nuts
- water melon (market access as of 24 May 2016)
- rock melon (market access as of 24 May 2016).
Australia has a number of competitive advantages when exporting fresh fruits and vegetables:
- Supply of counter seasonal produce
- Several Japanese varieties are grown in Tasmania and exported to Japan
- Australia’s diverse climate and soil varieties, enable the harvesting of a wide variety of produce and production with low levels of chemical fertilisers
- Consumer awareness of Australia’s clean, green environment and low chemical usage which adds to Australia’s appeal as a supplier of safe foods
- Less shipping time compared to other countries in the southern hemisphere which leads to the supply of fresh produce with superior quality
- Improved domestic infrastructure for delivery of imported products into Japan
- The deregulation of Japanese plant quarantine laws which is easing restrictions and opening up markets for new products.
The United States remains the top exporter to Japan for some products in the fresh vegetable and fruit sectors. However, China and other Asian and southern hemisphere countries have become major suppliers, increasing both the range and volume of fresh fruit and vegetables imported into Japan.
China is recognised as one of the lowest-cost suppliers of vegetables, with other overseas producers unable to compete on price. However, there have been cases of Chinese produce being restricted or banned, due to levels of chemical residue and several food safety issues.
Australia is also facing stronger competition from Chilean and South African producers due to their location in the southern hemisphere. They are taking advantage of counter seasonality by supplying similar types of products at more competitive prices.
Tariffs, regulations and customs
The Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) entered into force on 15 January 2015.
Exporters are advised to look closely at tariff rates before exporting to Japan. Some fresh fruit and vegetables will attract a seasonal tariff, depending on the time at which they are imported. Austrade has prepared a briefing paper on tariff benefits applied to key Australian fruit and vegetable products as a result of JAEPA.
The Japanese Government prohibits importers of fresh fruit and vegetables where soil is evident and plants have soil attached or produce contains evidence of pests and pathogens.
Under the Plant Protection Act’s designated quarantine procedures, fresh vegetables and fruit are checked by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (MAFF) Plant Protection Station. This includes a phytosanitary inspection which screens for contamination by any pests or harmful plants. Find out more about quarantine procedures.
The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) introduced a list system, prohibiting the distribution of food containing agricultural chemicals (pesticides, feed additives and veterinary drugs) above a certain level of Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs).
More information about the list system is available on the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website:
Marketing your products and services
Market entry strategies will vary according to products and segments and exporters should consider to:
- Promote Australia’s competitive advantages in counter seasonal, climate, soil variation and ‘clean, green and safe’ image
- Secure local representation where possible
- Emphasise shared time zones, which allow for rapid business communications
- Offer various options for shipment routes – direct or trans-shipment
- Provide regular information about climate, growing and harvest conditions and traceability including use of chemicals
- Provide details of produce conditions before shipment and obtain feedback from importers after landing
- Obtain agreement for supply contracts throughout the growing season
- Offer produce grown in different locations to maintain consistency of supply
- Agree to a trial shipment - a step towards securing long term supply contracts
- Frequent visits to the market and follow-up with customers regularly
- Awareness of customer preferences and needs through research and communication
The use of technology to support operations in importing is increasing, although direct online trading is not yet an option. Many importers use email and the internet to check produce quality by digital photo before shipping and on arrival. Face-to-face contact and the building of personal relationships still heavily influence buying decisions.
Distribution channels and importers vary according to the nature of the product and end user. Typical distribution channels begin with the growers, then the packers and/or exporters, fruit and vegetable importers and finally, the Japanese trading companies. From that point onwards, produce will go to either wholesale market operators, food processing companies, retailers and/or restaurants.
Other distribution options can bypass wholesalers and go directly to retailers, particularly large supermarket chain stores, food processing companies or restaurant chain outlets.
An increasing trend is for grouped supermarkets with a large number of stores that have considerable buying power to import directly from growers and packers. However, this channel is only suitable for produce that can be imported directly, with minimal handling and storage requirements.
Links and industry contacts
Government, business and trade resources
Japan External Trade Organization
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Ministry of Finance
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. The content is for information and carries no warranty; as such, the addressee must exercise their own discretion in its use. Australia’s anti-bribery laws apply overseas and Austrade will not provide business related services to any party who breaches the law and will report credible evidence of any breach. For further information, please see foreign bribery information and awareness pack.
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