The island nation is globally renowned for its tasty and healthy food. Much of the produce is locally farmed and sourced. Japanese food is considered to be one of the healthiest and tastiest in the world. Not to mention that it is one of the primary reasons that Japan welcomes so many tourists from all over the globe.
This popularity is reflected in the 2013 UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which highlights that the interest in Washoku (Japanese food) is increasing both domestically and internationally. Washoku is a social practice based on a set of skills, knowledge, practice and traditions related to the production, processing, preparation and consumption of food. It is associated with an essential spirit of respect for nature that is closely related to the sustainable use of natural resources.
However, the produce will not be consumed as much in the future by the native population since the numbers are thinning and predicted to dwindle by 20 per cent by 2050. As the global market for food and beverages grow, reversely the domestic consumption will get smaller. With shrinking number of farmers and expanded production volume, it is important to put a plan in place to raise the export volume in the coming years as the world population is slated increase by 30 per cent in the same period. In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) started to think about a framework to export produce from Japan — its vision for the future.
Yurie Furuya, Deputy Director, Export Policy Planning Division at MAFF, said that the Ministry is now focussing on how to effectively use the products for consumption by exporting to global markets. Going into the details, Furuya explained: “Even though the domestic consumption will decrease, the fresh food, processed food and eating-out product export market will continue to rise in 34 major countries (Total GDP share in the world was 81 per cent when analysed) by 2030 to JPY1,360 trillion because of a growing trend in the overseas market in Asia, Americas and Europe..”
According to a survey by JETRO in 2014, tourists look forward to eating local cuisine, and Japanese cuisine is ranked first among their favourite global cuisines. This was proof, she said, that the Japanese restaurants have seen a rise in the overseas market. According to a recent survey, since 2006, the numbers of Japanese restaurants from 24,000 worldwide, have grown to 156,000 in 2019 and as of latest figures in 2021, the numbers are 159,000, including to a total of 1,300 in the Middle East as of 2021.
Talking about the export value of agriculture, forestry and fishery products and foods. Furuya revealed that in 2020, the product value reached a record high of JPY9.86bn. “This years’ export value from January to August rose by 30.9 per cent compared to the same period in 2020, which is thought to be the shift from dining out to in-house dining affected by Covid-19. This is an example of how robust and in demand the Japanese products are across the globe.” As the silver lining continues to shine for Japanese produce overseas, she added: “We aim to increase the export value of agricultural, forestry and fishery products and foods to JPY2 trillion by 2025, and to JPY5 trillion, by 2030.”
Achieve the targets
MAFF has outlined clear strategy to realise export expansion, which marks that in order to achieve the targets requires establishment of a system that professionally and continuously produces and sells products with the specifications (quantity, price, quality and standards) required in overseas markets (AKA ‘market-in’ system).
Focus on priority items
Furuya points out those items are ‘priority’ that unique to Japan with high potential for export and have been selected after careful consideration and much deliberation — Wagyu beef, eggs, dairy products, fruits that are also visually appealing, sweet potatoes, tea, fish such as yellow tail and sea bream, confectionary, sauces, and beverages.
Certification of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
This programme was designed to certify overseas restaurants and retailers that sell Japanese food and beverages as official “Japanese Food Supporters” in order to further promote Japanese agricultural, forestry, fishery and food products around the world. Since its establishment in April 2016, 7,768 restaurants and stores in 67 countries have been certified (as of the end of September 2021). Of these, 13 have been certified in the UAE and a total of 83 in the Middle East region to date. MAFF is also taking steps to share Japanese food and culture overseas that is representative of the country. The Ministry is seeking to aid and promote the certification of overseas restaurants and retail stores that actively use Japanese ingredients, also known as “supporter stores.”
Exports to the UAE
The UAE continues to source Japanese food products in response to rising domestic demand. With over JPY3.6bn worth of Japanese food products imported into the UAE in 2020, the country is one of the biggest markets for Japanese agricultural items. The processed food category is the largest and valued at JPY2.3bn or 64.8 per cent of total exports, followed by fisheries, grains, and livestock products amounting to JPY400mn, JPY300mn, and JPY200mn, respectively.
Hideo Kawakami, Senior Regional Coordinator, Bilateral Affairs Division, Export and International Affairs Bureau at MAFF, explains that despite the drop in energy drinks market by almost 100 percent post-2018, the trade continues to flourish between the two nations. Other major exports are beef, sauces and mixed seasonings, confectionary, wood charcoal, kneaded products, tuna, caviar, and soy sauce.
Japanese beef is immensely popular and one of the most renowned food products in the UAE — the most popular being Wagyu. The premium beef is famed for its fat marbling and melt-in-the-mouth texture. The beef`s popularity at UAE restaurants has been a catalyst for MAFF to ramp up halal meat for export. Kawakami stated, “We are focusing on the potential of beef in the UAE market. As we continue to tap the Arab market, Japan currently has five halal processing facilities within the country and we expect an increase due to the growing demand overseas.”
He recently visited Expo 2020 Dubai and reiterated his belief on the strong demand for Japanese food by saying, “At the Japan pavilion, I witnessed a huge queue in front of the Sushiro restaurant. A country as diverse as the UAE, the market is also ripe for non-halal food. Considering all these factors, I believe that the Japanese food market will continue to flourish from all ends.”