Another case of BSE was confirmed in Japan this month, bringing the total number of cases to six since the first was reported in September 2001. Sales of organic foods are expected to continue to rise as a result.
Consumer demand for organic foods has been soaring since the BSE crisis started as they are viewed to be healthier and safer than conventional foods. A government survey in spring last year showed that food safety had overtaken price, a balanced diet, and taste as the most important consideration for consumers buying food.
This change in consumer behaviour has been brought about by a number of food scares in the Japanese food industry. Incidents have involved milk contamination, dioxins in Chinese vegetables, and mislabelling fraud.
Greater consumer interest has led to the major food retailers introducing organic foods and a number of natural food shops to open in the major cities of Japan. The two largest convenience food stores in Japan also began marketing organic products in their stores last year. The second-largest Lawson has opened a chain of dedicated shops that specialise in natural and organic products.
There has also been high interest from foreign companies. Many prospective exporters were present at the BioFach Japan trade fair in December 2002, which attracted 14,000 visitors. Few companies have managed to find success however due to the difficulties in doing business in Japan. Apart from certification, language and cultural differences are the largest barriers to market access.
The Japanese organic food industry is predicted to show high growth in the near term. It is to remain the largest market for organic foods in the Asia-Pacific however growth rates are likely to slow, as they have done in Europe. Until then, the Japanese market will remain the target of non-Asian organic food exporters that are looking to develop an international presence.
Posted: January 24th 2003
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