High-end gourmet foods hit Japanese shores

by Bridget Moon

The Current Climate for Australian Exports to Japan
While Australian wine continues to maintain a high profile among Japanese consumers, Australian gourmet food suppliers are starting to break into the market and are making their presence known in Japan with the export of several specialty gourmet brands. Brands such as Bryon Bay Cookie Company, Petuna, and King Island Cheese are appearing on the shelves of Japan’s leading retailers providing further choice for the Japanese consumer. Of course, this also means that the Australian expat community stands to benefit from this influx as a large selection of ‘home favorites’ become readily available.

Japan is the largest importer of food in the world, importing over 60 percent of its requirements. Australia’s biggest export destination for food is Japan and ranks third as the country’s largest supplier, after the US and China. In the 2005–2006 financial year, Australia’s exports of food to Japan were worth almost AUD$9.9 billion.

Despite a large number of Japanese consumers enjoying ‘Aussie Beef’ little is known about other exported goods within the food industry. A large proportion of Australian food exports to Japan come in unprocessed or semi-processed form. These products are imported by Japanese companies from Australia, mixed in with other international and domestic foods and re-branded as Japanese; thus the consumer is not always familiar with the role Australia plays and therefore are not aware that the high quality, good tasting, and safe food that they eat everyday, actually hails from Australia.

Melanie Brock, Managing Director, Agenda, aims to raise the profile in the Japanese marketplace of Australia’s capabilities within the gourmet food segment. Her company, established in 2003, imports product from primarily Australian food companies in addition to providing industry consultation and representative services. Agenda offers boutique, high-end gourmet food companies the opportunity to bring their products to the discerning and demanding Japanese market.

Agenda’s range of products is mostly gourmet in nature and available at high-end specialty retail stores such as Dean & Deluca, National Azabu, Nissin World Delicatessen, Isetan and Kinokuniya. In 2008, Agenda is looking to develop a range of food-service products for the hotel market including gourmet cheese.

Little is known by the average buyer about Australia’s gourmet lines and so it is up to the importer, in this case, Agenda, to raise the awareness in an attempt to convince those in the purchasing decision roles, to take the plunge and try say, for example, extra virgin olive oil from Australia over European imports. “We need to rely on key messages such as high quality, healthy image, flexibility to suit market needs and reliable supply in order to ‘win over’ the purchasing managers. It certainly helps if the packaging meets the high standards expected by Japan and there is a story behind the product!” says Melanie.

Agenda imports, distributes and markets several Australian brands including Byron Bay Cookie Company, New Norcia Bakery, Simon Johnson, Ogilvie & Co, The Berry Farm and Dandaragan Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Retailers are constantly looking to provide their customers with interesting and greater choice. In addition to looking for something different, retailers are looking to provide their consumers with the opportunity to purchase fresher and healthier foods, which Australia has in abundant supply.

Restaurants such as Salt (flagship restaurant of Australia’s top restauranter and celebrated chef: Luke Mangan. in Shin Maru Building) are important to the overall profile of the Australia food industry as they help to change perceptions and knowledge about Australian food. Up until now the proliferation of French, Italian, and Chinese restaurants has made it very easy for the food and wine suppliers from those countries to find ready made buyers for their products. Agenda, along with many Australian suppliers, is delighted to be able to supply restaurants such as Salt as they are a great advertisement for what Australia really can provide.

Australian Chefs and Hoteliers Network in Japan
In addition to working with leading Japanese wholesalers and distributors, Melanie and her sales team market their products to quality hotels and restaurants, where Australian chefs and food and beverage managers have a sizeable presence. Melanie has worked closely with the Australian Embassy in developing an “Australian chefs’ and hoteliers network” to raise the profile of Australian products among Japanese colleagues.

Melanie has plans to undertake some activities and promotions that would further raise the profile of Australian chefs and hoteliers in Japan and by doing so raise awareness of Australian food and wine. She hopes to be able to influence the purchasing decision making process made in hotels in Japan and to create opportunities for Network members to showcase Australian food and wine. Other initiatives include the development of internships and exchange programs for graduates from hospitality colleges and hotel management training institutes from Australia.

“Ultimately, I hope to be pro-active in creating opportunities for Australian suppliers to present their products and services to members of the Network” says Melanie.

Looking to the Future
The strong Australian dollar, complex distribution system in the Japanese market, high-tariffs and rising fuel prices makes for many headaches for the Australian exporter. When considering Japan, one must have a long-term approach and a strong commitment. The opportunities to create inroads in Japan and drive some volume-business and then branch out into neighbouring markets, once having had success in Japan, are there for those companies with the staying power and wherewithal. Recently, when it seemed that the future might contain only pain and stress, Melanie asked one of her suppliers what he believed the key to success in small business might be. The advice was that you simply had to keep going long enough; “if you are still standing, after everything, you are most likely to be given the work”. Melanie’s ultimate goal is to be just that: the “last man standing”.

External Link:
Agenda Japan