The Irish food industry turns its attention to Japan this week as Bord Bia and more than 25 food industry representatives participate in a trade mission to the market, led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, accompanied by the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

Over the coming week Ireland’s leading meat and dairy exporters, will meet with potential new customers, visit food facilities and participate in a series of networking seminars with influential local business contacts. Japan represents the third largest destination for Irish food exports to Asia. In 2012, Irish food and drink exports were valued at €36m, dominated by pork (€14,4m), dairy (€8.1m) and seafood (€6.4m).

Referring to the visit, Minister Coveney said: “This mission represents a significant opportunity for Irish food companies wishing to carve out business opportunities in a premium international market. I am delighted to have the opportunity to showcase the Irish food sector to key Japanese processors and importers, and to have the opportunity to build political contacts with my counterpart in Japan. This mission is about building the profile of the Irish agri-food sector in a sophisticated market in which high-quality and food safety standards are a prerequisite, and I am delighted to be able to support Irish business in this way.”

Speaking on the trade mission, Bord Bia chief executive Aidan Cotter commented: “Japan imports 60 per cent of its food requirements and on a global scale, the market is a significant importer of meat and dairy products. Food security represents one of the greatest challenges that the Japanese economy will face over the next decade.

“Historically up to 50 per cent of Japan’s economic activity was dominated by agriculture while today this figure stands at just one per cent and the urban population exceeds 90 per cent of overall population. The Irish food and beverage industry is in a strong position to cater to this increasing import demand, in particular within the meat, dairy and seafood categories.”

Cotter added: “At a time when the Irish dairy industry plans for export growth post 2015, this trade mission provides an invaluable opportunity for the Irish food industry to identify new business opportunities and enhance customer relationships in Japan. The strong food delegation, with participating companies representing more than 90 per cent of Ireland’s beef exports, 85 per cent of dairy exports and 80 per cent of pork exports, highlights the importance of the market.”

Market opportunities

Japan currently remains the largest importer of beef in Asia amounting to more than 514,000 tonnes in 2012. Prior to an import ban placed on the EU in the wake of BSE, in 2000 Ireland exported 3,000 tonnes of beef and offal to Japan, valued at just over €10m. The Japanese beef offal market represents a significant opportunity for the Irish beef industry as offal commands a higher premium in Japan compared to western markets.

Japan is also one of the world’s largest consumers of pork, ranking 12th in the world and imports account for almost 50 per cent of overall demand. The Japanese production systems face various obstacles particularly in terms of production costs, which in turn represents an opportunity for the pigmeat sector in Ireland.

Within the Japanese food industry, the dairy category is currently enjoying strong growth – in particular in case of cheese products, natural and processed, which have become increasingly popular in Japanese cooking. Irish cheese exports were valued at €6.4 million in 2012, a 33 per cent increase in value over the past four years.

Cheese and dairy ingredients represent further potential for the Irish dairy sector in the context of post 2015 growth. However, the eventual outcome of Free Trade Agreement negotiations between the EU and Japan, and detail relating to dairy tariffs, will determine the scale and timing of the opportunity.

Irish whiskey has a strong and growing presence in the Japanese market and since 2011, the value of Irish beverage exports increased by almost 60 per cent to reach €5.6m.

While pork, dairy and seafood represent the vast majority of Ireland’s food exports to Japan, current exports also include a number of Irish artisan products such as Irish oysters, craft beers, farmhouse cheese, smoked mackerel, chocolates and confectionary.

Donegal-based Irish Premium Oysters export some 2,500 Irish oysters to Tokyo each week while Brodericks’ handmade chocolate bars are on sale at the high-end retail store Dean & Deluca. Other well-known Irish brands available in Japan include Cashel Blue and Durrus cheese, Jameson, Baileys and Tullamore Dew.

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