Japanese companies and consumers are impressed by the quality and taste of British products displayed by more than 30 British companies at Japan’s most important annual food and drink expo.
British companies making their debut at this year’s Foodex Japan learned many things about the business opportunities that exist here – and every single one of them also discovered that “oishii” is the Japanese term for delicious.
“It’s the first word I hear every time any of the visitors to the stand try one of our langoustine,” said James Buchan, chairman of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation Ltd. As if on cue, a group of Japanese women sampled Buchan’s langoustine sashimi and uttered the required appreciation for one of Scotland’s key fisheries exports.
With 70 percent of the world’s langoustine catch taken off the British Isles, the Edinburgh-based organisation arrived in Japan hopeful of extending its export market. By the final day of the four-day event, Buchan said the response had far exceeded expectations.
More than 30 companies from across Britain took part in Japan’s most important annual food and drink expo, held at the Makuhari Messe exhibition centre in early March. That ranged from operating their own stands to simply attending to get a feel for the event and commissioning market research from the UKTI Japan Team to evaluate the potential of their products in this market.
Every year, Foodex attracts more than 2,500 exhibitors from around the world and puts them into direct contact with 71,000 visitors from the sector. Organisers said after the event that while the area of the event taken up by British firms was smaller than that of some other nations, the UK area was the “busiest and liveliest place in the show.”
Deals signed in the months after the expo are worth millions, but exhibitors say that arguably the most important reason for attending is to make face-to-face connections with potential partners.
“Exports – and particularly to this country – are all about building relationships,” said Charles Baughan, managing director of Devon-based Westaway Sausages Ltd.
Baughan was taking part in Foodex Japan for the second consecutive year and applying the lessons that he had picked up previously.
“Traditionally, 98 percent of the sausages available here are pre-cooked so our products were pretty incomprehensible to consumers here,” he said. “So we have come, we have seen what the market requires and we’re making those changes so what we have is suitable for Japan.”
Evidence that Baughan has hit the spot was demonstrated by the constant stream of expo-goers stopping to sample his prime Cumberland and Lincolnshire sausages.
Exhibitors at Foodex were able to tap into the knowledge of UK Trade & Investment before and during the event, tying in neatly with the ongoing Food is GREAT campaign.
And there is a track record of successes at the event for UK firms, with Cornish Sea Salt taking part in 2013 and being snapped up by one of Japan’s largest distributors, while Churchill Confectionery Ltd. asked the UKTI Japan Food & Drink team to carry out an in-depth market study before going on to launch a range of their products with a local agent.
The benefits to Churchill have quickly become apparent, with the company confirming a major order during this year’s show.
Other companies that emerged from the expo with deals clinched included groceries firm Sun Mark Ltd and Terrafertil UK Ltd, famous for its Goldenberry Juice.
“We provide a wide range of services, including introducing companies, providing advice, public relations assistance and on-site support throughout the four-day event,” said Mariko Hasegawa, of the UKTI’s dedicated food and drink team in Tokyo.
“It may be too early to hear about success stories from all of the companies yet, but we understand that most of the exhibitors had fruitful meetings and are now in more detailed discussions with buyers about future potential business opportunities here,” she said.
Foodex is one of the most useful platforms to test marketability of British products. UKTI Japan is planning to organize a UK pavilion in similar scale next year and looks forward to assisting new/repeating exhibitors.
For a detailed look at the Japanese food and drink market and tips to help you understand your company’s business potential watch our Japanese Food & Drink Market webinar. (requires free sign-up)
Article by Julian Ryall, April 2014