FoodEx Japan

Organic products in Japan: Strict standards, small market, but huge opportunities - Retailer

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Japan's organic market is ripe for growth. ©GettyImages
Japan's organic market is ripe for growth. ©GettyImages

Related tags Japan Organic

Adhering to Japan’s strict organic standards and requirements is the biggest hurdle for overseas firms trying to get a foothold in the nation’s fledgling sector, which is now being tipped for a growth spurt.

That’s the view of Bio c’ Bon Merchandising Department General Manager Akiteru Imai, who shared his views at FoodEx Japan.

The firm was formed as a joint venture between Japanese organic pioneers Aeon and Marne & Finance Europe, which operates Bio c’ Bon in France.

It currently runs four “casual organic” stores in Tokyo and aims to have 50 branches by 2020.

And although demand for organic is relatively small in Japan – with annual growth relatively stagnant compared to an average of 13% across APAC as a whole - consumer interest is slowly growing and there could be vast opportunities future for suppliers – providing they can meet the stringent local standards.

“Japan’s organic market is extremely small, relative to its population. However, demand is growing among general consumers, but supply is inadequate,” ​he said.

“There are very few producers with organic certification for dairy products, livestock products, eggs, wheat, etc. We are pushing ahead with efforts to increase numbers of producers and users, as we work to become the leading company, propelling this industry.”

According to Global Organic Trade, the total market size for organic packaged food and beverages in Japan in 2017 was US$597.4m, making it the 13th largest market in the world by value.

Per capita spending on organic packaged food and beverages in Japan is US$4.71, which ranks as the 23rd largest in the world.

Success strategy

According to Imai, many of the firm’s products are imported from Europe, with cheese, wine, gluten-free products, cereals, chocolates and biscuits proving popular.

But he stressed that required accreditations were fundamental to long-term success.

“We put the highest priority on certified sources, and we encourage uncertified suppliers to get certified. We do handle some uncertified products depending on the categories. For example, with categories like fishery where there is no organic certification, we handle products with MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification or products that are natural.”

He also said the company preferred to deal with companies that had some experience of trading in Japan.

“Depending on the products, we may do business with partners who lack exporting experience, but we prefer partners with experience,”​ he added.

“The problem that always comes up when we import products is information disclosure. In their ordinary import/export operations, foreign companies have never experienced the kind of information disclosure that Japan demands, so with first-time companies, we have to start from explaining that, and sometimes it doesn’t go smoothly.”

Imai added the company was keen to expand its range of chilled foods, sweets, yogurts, cheeses, and hams.

He pointed out that the last FoodEx Japan show had led the company to stock an organic frozen juice bar for children from Italy.

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