Organic Consumers Association

Japan's Consumers Are Hungry for Organic Food

From <>
August 15, 2003


8 August, By Claire Hope Cummings, NewFarm

Potentially, Japan can be an enormous organic food market. Currently, consumer demand exceeds supply. The explanation most commonly given for this discrepancy is that when Japan¹s new organic standards law went into effect in April 2001, it required strict adherence to new national standards. The word ³organic² could only be used for foods certified and marked under the Japan Agriculture Standard or ³JAS² organic seal. Many Japanese farmers had been using methods that reduced or eliminated synthetic chemicals and they were selling their food as ³organic.² But those who could not become certified dropped out, drastically reducing the number of organic producers in Japan, at least by the official definition.

The area of land devoted to organic farming in Japan is tiny, just over 12,500 acres. But that small land area does not tell the whole organic food story. After all, Japan is the world¹s largest food importer, relying on other countries for over 60 percent of its food. For Japan, then, the number of certified organic farmers in the country may not be the best indicator of the potential retail market.

The demand for organic food is growing rapidly in Japan. The Japanese are some of the most demanding consumers in the world. They expect quality, safety and have a high level of environmental literacy. All of which translates into an appreciation for ³Yuuki Shokuhin,² or organic food.

Kenji Matsumoto, the Executive Director of the Japan Organic and Natural Foods Association (JONA)explained that ³a lot of people are still not aware of the superiority of certified organic, as opposed to the old idea of natural, and they just do not know to look for the [new] label.² In 2000, the Japanese government estimated the market for organic food was about US $250 million. For 2003, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) puts it at more like $350-450 million.

Those numbers still need to be put into perspective, however. The retail market in Japan is $2 trillion a year. That¹s trillion with a ³t² - about half of that in food sales. That leaves plenty of room for products like organic cotton and cosmetics. But the significant growth would be in fresh food and produce.

Perhaps the most interesting and distinctive feature of Japanese food buying is, unlike other modern industrialized nations, Japan still patronizes its small local retailers. A whopping 70 percent of the total retail food sales take place in the more than 1 million small food stores in Japan.

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