6 years ago

The Partnership no. 12

  • Text
  • Enza
  • Partnership
  • Zaden
  • Vegetables
  • Cauliflower
  • Products
  • Varieties
  • Japan
  • Seeds
  • Breeding

Deep freeze Japan has a

Deep freeze Japan has a cultivation area of about 4,470,000 ha, but the trend of abandoning rural areas is a huge problem in the country. With an average age of 67 the Japanese growers are the oldest in the world. The younger generations are not jumping for joy to take over the work from the older generations. This is how Japan has become highly dependent on imports, in particular on fresh products from Korea and New Zealand. However, importing fresh produce is not easy and subject to very strict phytosanitary inspections. Imports of frozen vegetables from China has seen a huge increase for that reason. In 2016, two thirds of frozen vegetables in Japan were bought from China. Eating with the eyes Japanese consumers are very critical on all product features. They assess the products from the shape of the leaf to the colour of the fruit, and the flavour in particular is of the highest importance. In fact, they eat with their eyes. They look at the colour composition of the products and the presentation on the plate. In general, the plate presents several types of vegetables, a variety that serves to be a pleasure to both the eye and the taste buds. Everything must be perfect. Against this backdrop, Japan and Korea offer a ‘Vegetable Sommelier’ course and certificate, training people to advice on recipes and product combinations based on extensive product knowledge. Supermarkets & Conbini There is no other country where the origin of vegetables is so important. The Japanese supermarkets are a great example. Han: “Here the products are displayed by supplier, presented with a picture of the grower and details of the product origin. This puts the consumer in contact with the grower. Like most Western consumers, the Japanese prefer their products to be grown close to home. At least in Japan, but even better near the place where they live. So, domestic productions are needed.” Japan has no dominant supermarket chains as is customary in western countries. In addition to supermarkets, conbini stores rule the Japanese streets. These shops are all about convenience: small packages of products that you can eat on the go, perfectly suited to the high-speed lifestyle. “The shift towards raw vegetables and salads that we are now spotting worldwide was noticeable in Japan first. This country is the worldwide leader in consumption trends.” Japan was also at the forefront with small packages of pre-cut vegetables. Cities such as Tokyo have a relatively high number of bachelors, certainly in the under-35 age bracket. Demand for single-person meals is high: freshly cut lettuce in small bags, pumpkins and salads sold per quarter, and cherry tomatoes sold individually. Consumers in the busy city life, especially those with a higher income, eat about forty percent of their vegetables outside their home. Japan is among the top countries for eating away from home. “But it has become less as many people tend go home earlier to eat with their family,” explains Fumihiro Hashimoto, Manager of Enza Zaden’s distributor for greenhouse crops in Japan BESTCROP Co.,Ltd. “It’s the result of the 2011 big earthquake that took place in Tohoku, the northern part of Japan, and of the scaledown of the economy.” Tsukemono Processing and adding value to products has a long history in Japan. Not so strange in itself, of course. With the extremely high quality requirements that consumers set to products, the amount of ‘by-products’ is relatively high. A new destination is necessary for sub-standard products. Vegetable juices are a great alternative for processing fruit vegetables. It is also made into Tsukemono, fermented vegetables that Japanese eat with rice, as a snack or with tea ceremonies. Hashimoto: “In fact, fermented foods are revaluated these days, because they are very good for health. Kouji, rice or barley with bacteria, is used for making miso, soy sauce, sake, tsukemono for a long time. There is a trend to use rice kouji as spice for foods to get more fermented foods.” Tomatoholics However, western influences can also be detected in Japan. Tomatoes were introduced in the middle of seventeenth century for ornamental use. Only about 100 to 150 years ago the fruit was also being eaten and it has increased in popularity over the years. Tomatoes, in particular the mini ones, are a great fit for the Japanese convenience trend and Japanese tomatoholics are easy to be found in the country. “They should have the Japanese bite, that is, a thin skin, and they should be as sweet as possible. This vegetable compete with the fruit range on the shelves as we mostly eat fresh tomatoes uncooked and without dressing or sauce. This is why the focus is on the brix level of the fruit. A value of 8 to 10 is the rule rather than the exception. This requires growing tomatoes under heavy stress and in salty soil.” The flavour must be really perfect. It is often the key factor in how the product is positioned. Piman Just as tomatoes, hot chillies and sweet peppers came into Japan from outside the island. Chillies have been a staple in the Japanese kitchen for centuries now. The green pepper, known as ‘piman’ in Japan, has a shorter history here, having become commonplace since the early twentieth century. The slightly bitter aftertaste of the piman is not for everyone. It was not until 1993 that sweeter, ripe pepper types such as red and yellow bell peppers emerged in Japan from Europe. “Japan has a difficult climate for growing open-field peppers,” explains Han. “But there is definitely plenty of demand for this sweeter type. Korea and New Zealand were quick in adopting cultivation of this crop. Korea now exports 30,000 tons of sweet peppers to Japan per year and New Zealand 4,600 tons. Another 5,800 tons are from the Netherlands.” Challenges Consumption of vegetables seems to have declined over the past years. One of the reasons is the fact that vegetables are very expensive in Japan, and life in the cities is lived in the fast lane. Vegetable breeding companies may play a pivotal role to make a change and to influence food culture, health and even eating habits. This has happened in the past with sweet pepper, cocktail tomato, red tomatoes instead of the pink ones, and the leafy lettuce which were all quite a new concept in the market. Hashimoto: “Vegetable breeding companies have brought more variation and our consumers are now enjoying their cooking. These companies may very well be able to take us to a more healthy and traditional life with vegetables that are easy to cook or eat. This will definitely stimulate our consumption on vegetables. Moreover, varieties that are easy to grow will lower the price allowing consumers to buy more vegetables. Good vegetables to fit for local food would support our traditional life in Japan.” "Vegetable breeding companies have brought more variation and our consumers are now enjoying their cooking" 10 | The Partnership Fumihiro Hashimoto of BESTCROP Co. Ltd., Distributor Japan The Partnership | 11

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