An Introduction to Japan’s Changing Food and Beverage Industry

The Japanese food and beverage industry is complex and evolving. While the country’s older generation tends to maintain a traditional diet, younger consumers are beginning to favor Western cuisine and habits, leading to a change in the types and amounts of food consumed. The country’s small physical size and large population mean that it relies heavily on imports for its food supply, and recent natural disasters have compounded the problem. However, Japan’s population is beginning to shrink and age, with a lower birth rate and higher life expectancy. This means that demand for food and beverages could decrease in the future.


The combined food retail and food service market is quite sizeable, with its value approaching USD 600 billion. According to a report from the European Commission, Japanese consumer spending on food fell by 32.6% from 2012 to 2015, which is in line with the decrease in total consumer spending. The country’s food imports far exceed its exports, being more than 10 times greater in 2014. Over the past few years, imports have risen and exports have fallen, with the top three imports being fish, meat, and cereals. The country’s self-sufficiency in food was 39% in 2013, and the government has made a goal of raising that number to 45% by 2025.


Growing emphasis on health


Over the past several years, the Japanese government has increased its focus on health. In order to reduce the burden on the country’s health system and decrease stress-related health issues, the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare introduced mandatory health checks in 2008. The government hopes to reduce lifestyle diseases such as obesity and heart diseases, and these health checks are meant to encourage healthier lifestyles. This emphasis on a healthier lifestyle is contributing to a trend in the country towards healthier eating.


This focus on health has led to greater demand for food that is perceived to be healthy, such as products with low fat and sugar content, organic produce, and nutritional supplements. Products that promise to combat common health problems are therefore in demand, particularly among older consumers. These consumers also tend to consume more fruits and vegetables, so demand for them will likely rise in the future.


Western food and beverages becoming trendy


With the younger generation taking an interest in Western food, products such as meat, dairy, salt, oil, and fats are growing in popularity and consumption of fish, seafood, and rice is falling. The continued urbanization of the country is also leading to demand for more variety in food and for new experiences, and rising disposable incomes mean that consumers are willing and able to pay for it.


Demand for easy meals


Japan’s marriage rate and age are also decreasing, leading to a greater number of single-person households. Along with this, more women are entering the labor market, meaning there is less time for cooking and for eating together. These factors are creating more demand for ready-to-eat meals and home delivery. The aging population is also contributing to this, as many elderly consumers prefer the ease of prepare meals.


While Japan’s high import rate can be a challenge within the country, it provides substantial opportunities for other countries to export. The nation’s growing interest in foreign foods will also contribute to this. Shifting trends in eating habits will create new demand in some areas and less demand elsewhere, but there does not look to be a lack of opportunity in Japan’s food and beverage market in the coming years.


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