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Japan: Health conscious consumers present opportunity for US exporters

Though the Japanese consumer retail market had to contend with the effects of the 2011 Fukushima incident, spending on food did not decrease. Although consumer habits shifted in favor of products with longer shelf life, consumer preferences for healthy products present an opportunity for American fresh produce exporters.

A report released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service highlighted the obstacles and opportunities present for U.S. suppliers of fresh produce who wish to enter the Japanese market. With the U.S. supplying over a quarter of all imported food value in Japan during 2011, Japanese consumers are very amenable to buying American food products.

Additionally, according to the report, the strong yen exchange rate of the last few years has driven up food imports from foreign countries, and most of those imports have, in recent years, been American. But the report also cautions that U.S. exporters need to be aware of specific cultural tendencies to fully take advantage of the Japanese market.

“Japanese consumers are a sophisticated clientele with tastes and preferences instilled via cultural, societal, and environmental factors,” the report noted.

One of those factors is the large section of the population which is older in age. That could be an opportunity for produce suppliers who tout their products' health benefits since the demand for healthy and nutritionally balanced foods has increased over the recent years, with interest strongest among adult women and those over 50 years of age. The report warned, however, that any health claims should be made carefully as the government has very particular regulations about what claims can be made.

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