The country sent a large delegation to last week’s FoodEx Japan exhibition in Tokyo, with manufacturers keen to boost businesses with its second largest export market after the US.
Officials said that Vietnam earned US$1.46 billion from exporting food products Japan last year, a year-on-year increase of 6.6%. Of these, vegetables and fruits were valued at US$75.1 million, up 1.5%.
According to DoveCo’s sales manager Dinh Gia Nghia, the firm’s sales of frozen fruit and vegetables to Japan have grown year-on-year since entering the market a decade ago.
“We are now selling around 8,000 tonnes a year in fruit and vegetables alone. We also sell our juice products, but the volumes are their smaller,” he added, stating the Europe was the key target market for its beverages.
It was a similar story for NA Foods, where frozen fruit and vegetable sales to Japan have been rising, despite Europe accounting for the vast majority of its exports.
“At the moment around 5% of our exports go to Japan but we see a lot of opportunity to increase this,” said Giang Nguyen.
“We started selling to Japan around five years ago and we have had a lot of success here with our ginger products, especially the pastes,” she added.
Seafood is another major export product to Japan, with one exhibitor, Incomfish, entering its sixth decade of supplying to Japan.
Frozen shrimp is its most popular product, but the firm is now branching into value-added products such as spring rolls and dumplings.
Vice director Tran Bach Duong said: “We have a long history of trading with Japan, but we realise we need to diversify. That’s why we are now manufacturing products such as spring rolls, but the fish trade is very competitive.”
All three firms are now set to benefit from a cut in import taxes, which will stand at 2.8% for the vast majority of food products exported to Japan.
The measures, outlined in the Vietnam-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, will also see average taxes on Japan’s goods imported into Vietnam reduced to 7%.
The aim is to eradicate tariffs for around 90% of all exports by 2028, within 10 years.
However, according to Vietnam’s Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, Tran Quoc Khanh, domestic food companies need to double-down on quality control and food safety to reap the rewards.
“Meeting Japan’s quality standards is a compulsory requirement for every importer. The Vietnamese exporter will have to meet the demand, if they want to penetrate this market,” he said.
Such improvements helped open up the market for Vietnamese banana, mango and dragon fruits in recent years, after negotiations that took nearly a decade to finalise.
Officials are now hoping to streamline the process for new approvals.
While much of the Vietnamese focus at FoodEx was on fruits, vegetables and seafood. One packaged goods company has proved to be an unlikely success story by selling noodles to the Japanese.
Bichi Chi Food Company’s rice noodle and rice paper products have been proving a hit with Japanese consumers, in part because they closely replicate the texture and taste of local versions.
Sales manager Tina Bui Thi Ngoc Tuyen told us: “After that success, we are now launching our rice vermicelli products. The packaged foods sector in Japan is dominated by local brands, and I think we have done well because our products are actually quite similar to some of those.”