Japanese food companies hope to expand ASEAN presence through Oishii Japan fair
SINGAPORE: Southeast Asians seem to love Japanese food, and Japanese companies want to grow that pie. The third instalment of Oishii Japan, which has become the largest Japanese food and beverage showcase outside the country, opened its doors to trade visitors looking for business partners in Singapore on Thursday (Oct 16).
Food products from Fukushima, in particular, are hoping to find a market here. “After the nuclear disaster, there were many food import restrictions, but Fukushima products were cleared and allowed to be distributed within Japan, and they are very delicious,” said Mr Kenji Kokubun, Deputy Director of the Fukushima Prefectural Government’s Farm Products Marketing Division. “So we want to introduce our food to Singapore and Southeast Asia.”
Premium sake, ramen broth, and konnyaku jelly made from fresh fruit are some products from Fukushima that may find their way to supermarket shelves in Singapore, if the companies manage to find distributors through the Oishii Japan fair.
Fukushima bore the brunt the brunt of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. But between April last year and March this year, its vegetables, fruits and livestock products have all been tested safe from radiation. In late August, a 300kg batch of Fukushima rice sold out within three days at a Singapore supermarket, which was carrying the rice for the first time since the ban on Fukushima food imports was lifted.
This year’s Oishii Japan fair is larger than ever, with 266 exhibitors from 32 prefectures – a 15 per cent increase from last year. The first two days of the fair is only for trade visitors, but the event will be open to the public on Saturday. Visitors will be able to sample a wide variety of Japanese food that is here for the first time.
These include desserts from Kyoto, and Olive Beef from Kagawa prefecture, which comes from cows fed with dried pressed olives, resulting in a superior wagyu beef that is healthier and tastes lighter.
Kagawa prefecture wants to bring this beef to overseas markets through Singapore. Said Mr Takuya Miyatake, Supervisor of the Local Products Division for the Kagawa Prefectural Government: “Singapore is now the hub of Southeast Asia. We can approach the customers in Singapore and look for opportunities in neighbouring countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, so that is why we choose Singapore to participate in this event.”
JAPANESE FIRMS SAY ‘HAI’ TO HALAL
For companies hoping to expand in Southeast Asia, an increasing number are going the extra mile to get their products Halal-certified. “The demand is now increasing for Halal food. Japanese food uses alcohol, and Halal food cannot use alcohol. To keep the taste, they adjust the sugar content or soya sauce content to nearly the original taste,” said Shigeo Nomura, a representative for Okamura Trading.
Indeed, previous editions of Oishii Japan featured no Halal food, but that is not the case this year, noted Mr Masanao Nishida, the fair’s director. “I hope to increase Halal food from Japan in the Asia market,” he added. “In Japan, the population is decreasing. So we want the good business outside of Japan, especially the ASEAN market – we are very interested. Most of the companies are interested in bringing products from Japan to ASEAN, but unfortunately they do not understand how to proceed, so they first come to Oishii Japan to look for distributors in Singapore, Indonesia or Malaysia.”
Last year, Japanese food exports to ASEAN grew 24.2 per cent, exceeding 100 billion yen (S$1.2 billion), compared to 2012. Singapore is one of the largest markets in ASEAN: Exports hit 16.4 billion yen last year – a 13.5 per cent growth from a year ago.
The number of Singapore visitors to Japan is growing as well, and the Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) is expecting more than 200,000 visitors this year – a record high.
The 2011 nuclear disaster impacted tourism from Singapore to Japan significantly, said JNTO Executive Director Hideki Manabe. In 2010, there were about 180,000 Singaporeans visiting Japan, but this decreased in 2011 to about 120,000 people.
The numbers have improved. “Last year, about 190,000 people visited Japan – going to places such as Hokkaido and Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu, Okinawa. And they enjoyed Japan,” he said. “Also, this year, about 800,000 Japanese visited Singapore. So we hope tourist exchanges between Singapore and Japan can continue this good relationship in future.”