Japanese food is riding a new wave of popularity as consumers embrace healthy eating options and look beyond traditional dining choices to more intriguing alternatives in an era when cross-border travel is almost impossible.
According to a Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries survey, the popularity of Japanese cuisine worldwide was surging before COVID-19 arrived. In just two years - from 2017 to 2019 - the number of Japanese restaurants across wider Asia grew 30 per cent – from 118,000 to an estimated 156,000. Further afield, there were increases of 40 per cent in Oceania, 30 per cent in Latin America and 20 per cent in North America.
When COVID arrived early in 2020, sales continued to rise due to the health benefits of the cuisine. Upmarket UK supermarket Waitrose reported a 33-per-cent increase in searches for Japanese food on its website last year and food-delivery companies recorded increased sales of Japanese foods across multiple markets.
A survey by the Institute of Food Technologists involving consumers across 24 global markets found Japanese food to be the third most-favourite international cuisine behind Italian and Chinese foods.
In Asia, the number of Japanese restaurants in Thailand increased by 13 per cent last year, surpassing 4000 for the first time. Researchers say Asia’s growing middle class is contributing to the increased demand - and given it is estimated to increase five-fold in the two decades until 2030, it is unlikely interest in Japanese food there will decline any time soon.
Many food industry sources were expecting Japanese food to attract more attention due to the now-deferred 2020 Tokyo Olympics – not so much sushi, which is already common all over the world, but lesser known dishes starting to draw attention, such as souffle pancakes, donburi rice bowls, katsu sando milk bread sandwiches, Japanese whiskeys, natto, and the condiment yuzu kosho.
In light of the surging popularity of Japanese food, Saladplate has partnered with the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) to host the 2nd Japan Festival from April 12 to 25 featuring a range of online events and promotions. Eat-at-home products will be centrestage, such as snacks, sake, seasonings and ready-to-eat foods.
JETRO’s involvement in the festival is symbolic of the Japanese government’s goal to make the most of the trend by investing expertise and money into helping the nation’s food industry to expand production and increase exports of farm and fisheries products.
Despite the pandemic, Japan’s exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery exports reached a record US$8.37 billion (HKD69.2 billion) last year – a growth rate of 1.1 per cent over the prior year. Hong Kong became the largest single export destination, accounting for $1.9 billion (HKD15.5 billion) of that, up 1.2 per cent over 2019.
Of the more than 15,000 restaurants trading in Hong Kong, more than 1700 are licensed to sell sashimi and sushi. “That shows Japanese food culture is very popular in Hong Kong, and it is also popular with citizens and tourists," observed a government spokesperson.
The most popular foodstuffs imported into Hong Kong in 2020 were pork, chicken, milk products, wheat flour, instant noodles, fresh fruit (including mandarins, grapes, honeydew, peaches, pears and strawberries), vegetables (including broccoli, lettuce, white radish, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and dried beans), wine, sake, chocolate snacks, soybean oil, ginseng, oysters, ornamental fish, anchovy, scallops, abalone, sea cucumber and coral.
Japanese Food for Eating At Home
A mixture of premium eat-at-home Japanese products suppliers can be found on Saladplate, including:
- Nihon Shizen Hakko, a manufacturer of fermented products such as vinegar and washoku broth. The company’s main product is Oishi Su (The Delicious Vinegar) of which it sells 3.8 million bottles a year. Amo Koso (a fermented botanical product) is another top-selling item in Japan, the US and the EU.
- Uenoya, based in the Mei prefecture, which has manufactured konjac for the past 60 years, along with Natural Shirataki Noodles.
- Ahjikan which produces Atsuyaki Tamago – Japanese egg omelette, an essential ingredient in sushi – for the past 50 years.
- Top Trading (Far East), a distributor of dashi, soups, fruit juices and hot-pot wares, among other goods.
- Twixt Japan, which supplies Japanese dairy products, including butter and milk.
During the 2nd Japan Festival, registered Saladplate buyers can receive up to 30 per cent wholesale discount on orders from selected suppliers, a complimentary Japanese-to-Chinese translation service, free samples and free international shipping on small orders of products stored at room temperature (conditions apply). Learn more about the online event here.