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Japanese Buyers Indulge in the Taste and Charm of Korean FoodField Report from 2017 K-Food Fair in Tokyo

Korean agriproducts are highly popular in Japan. Thanks to the Korean Wave and a good image of Korean products as safe and delicious, the Japanese consumers' interest in Korean food and agriproducts is continuously growing.

On July 26 to 27, MAFRA (the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs) and aT (Korea Agro-food Distribution Corporation) hosted the 2017 K-Food Fair in Tokyo at the Grand Prince Hotel. This was the first time a K-Food Fair was held in Tokyo.

The event was designed to expand awareness of Korean agriproducts among Japanese buyers and consumers and thereby to increase exports. The 2017 K-Food Fair in Tokyo brought together 280 distributors, vendors, importers, and buyers. Forty-eight Korean exporters conducted one-to-one consultations with potential partners from Japan. To help the understanding of foreign buyers, the exporters’ products were exhibited in a K-Food Showcase at the entrance to the consultation booths and shown at presentations. The consultations proceeded in a lively atmosphere, with Japanese importers actively inquiring about prices, export conditions, and quality of products they were interested in.

In addition to one-to-one consultations, 14 Korean companies carried out demonstrations of new products and distributed information about them.

A seminar on consumption trends in Japan and export expansion strategies was organized for Korean businesses wishing to advance into the Japanese market.

The two-day K-Food Fair yielded an exceptional result of about US$ 49 million in export consultations and over US$ 3 million in export contracts.

○ Korean Agriproducts in the Eyes of Japanese Importers

# Lee Kwang-suk, President of Shinsei Co.

I became a buyer importing Korean agriproducts to Japan 10 years ago and I have attended many events looking for new products. To expand agri-food exports, Korea needs to diversify the export categories further. Although Korean agriproducts have a competitive edge in Japan, it is important that they are marketed professionally. Export volumes also have to be consistent and steady. Marketing can be strengthened through a customized support system and more assistance in expenses on promotions and packaging.

Currently, aT helps a wide range of Korean exporters with design and marketing, but the organization needs to build a larger pool of marketing professionals, especially experts in the Japanese market.

Finally, I think Korean agri-products should be approached as a cultural concept rather than food. The relations between Korea and Japan have a direct and indirect impact on trade of agri-products.

# Jun Nagasaki, General Manager of Foods Divison at Matsuda Sangyo Co.

We are importing high quality agri-food from Korea and selling it in Japan. We came to the K-Food Fair to gather information on Korean products. In the last two days, we had consultations with Korean exporters and are interested in importing several promising products. There are many Chinese products in the agri-food market of Japan. Korean products are considered safer and of higher quality than the Chinese ones. Thanks to the geographical proximity of Korea to Japan, the transportation expenses are low, while automation systems reduce the costs of production in Korea, so Korean products are highly competitive in Japan.

The most popular products these days are dried seaweed and kimchi. To make the exports more efficient, Korean producers need to focus on advantages of each product during negotiations and marketing activities. I would recommend that Korean exporters analyze the pros and cons of their products in the Japanese market ahead of business negotiations.

# Kim Ho-dong, Director of aT Korea Agro-Trade Center Tokyo

"We spare no effort to expand exports of Korean agriproducts to Japan beyond US$ 2.5 billion—which was the highest record achieved at the peak of the Korean Wave in 2012."

Having held major positions at aT headquarters in Seoul, Kim Ho-dong is a veteran in the export sector. Thanks to his organizing abilities and drive, the two days of K-Food Fair in Tokyo brought Korean exporters over US$ 3 million in contracts, with another US$ 49 million worth of contracts discussed at export consultations. Kim is credited with contributing to the turning of the tide of low exports of Korean agri-food to Japan, which now have started to make double-digit growth.

Kim said, “The agri-food consumption trends in Japan are shifting due to demographic changes, such as low birth rates, population aging, decreasing population, increasing number of double-income families, and changes in lifestyle. The consumption of functional food is rising due to increased interest in health and beauty among the elderly and women; products in small packages and convenience food are the choice of many double-income families."

From 2012 to 2015, exports of agri-food from Korea to Japan had been declining. They started to grow again last year, thanks to a better relationship between the two countries and aT’s efforts to promote Korean products and find new buyers.

In connection to the 2017 K-Food Fair in Tokyo, Kim said, "We invited 48 Korean exporters specializing in agricultural or marine products and did our best to match them for one-on-one consultations with promising buyers from all around Japan—from Hokkaido to Kyushu. While the consultations were going on, we provided Korean exporters with comprehensive support by hosting new product presentations, offering interpretation services, and giving advice on quarantine procedures and packaging design in line with local trends.”

The aT office in Tokyo also actively searches promising products for niche markets in Japan and assists exporters of strategic products, such as kimchi, ginseng, and ramyeon in increasing their shares in the Japanese market.

Kim shared some details, saying, “We plan to provide systematic support to promising products suitable for the local consumption trends such as pork dumplings and glutinous rice. By providing assistance in packaging design, quarantine procedures, and interpretation, we will help those products to enter and solidify their position in Japan."

Kim emphasized that the main consumers of Korean agri-food in Japan are young people in their teens to thirties, so it is important to select appropriate promotional tools, such as online promotional events through social networks.

The aT office in Tokyo will also seek distributors with networks in rural areas where Korean agri-products are not yet available. Kim said, “We will strengthen collaboration with large vendors who have nationwide distribution channels for the purpose of building a more stable environment for exports of Korean agri-products."

Lee Young Ju  leejy@agrinet.co.kr

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