Food and beverage market in Japan

Entering the Japan market is something to be approached with great care as its discerning consumers have high standards and expectations.

Developing trust and establishing relationships with a long term approach are crucial to doing well in Japan. With an ageing population, Japan should offer some key opportunities for New Zealand exporters specialising in health and natural products.

Market Structure

  • In 2010, supermarkets had the largest market share of grocery retail with 45 percent, followed by small grocery retailers, food/drink/tobacco specialists and other grocery retailers. Supermarkets and hypermarkets distribute the bulk of the US$225.9 billion packaged food in Japan. (i) Convenience stores make up 78 per cent of small grocery retailers. Top mass grocery retailers include 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, MaxValu and Circle K.(ii)
  • Sales in grocery retailing are forecast to decline as weak consumer confidence continues and there will be a widespread expansion of private labels across grocery. (iii)
  • The main players in Japan's food and beverage market include Kirin Brewing Co, Asahi Breweries, Ajinomoto General Foods, Nippon Meat Packers and Yamazaki Baking Co, according to Business Monitor International. Domestic companies such as sweet biscuit producer, Yamazaki Baking dominate packaged food with their superior knowledge of the local tastes. (iv)
  • The foodservice market in Japan was worth US$240.4 billion in 2010, a total of 248,700 establishments, of which 81 percent were independent. Around 36 percent of purchases were beverages.
  • A declining population, lower production levels and consumer concerns about food safety, have left the fresh food market stagnant, but some fresh food products are in demand such as nuts and pulses, fruits and meat.
  • Online supermarkets, known as "net super" are becoming popular for the estimated 6 million seniors who have difficulty shopping due to immobility. (v) Sales in only food and beverage retailing grew by 39 percent during 2006-2011 reaching US$5.3 billion.
  • Distribution channels are changing from imports going to traditional primary wholesalers and onward, to small and medium wholesalers and retailers doing small-lot imports and consumers increasingly importing products directly from abroad. This is making for shorter and more efficient distribution options for imports.

Growth drivers

  • With Japanese consumers strongly concerned about food safety and health products such as natural and organic food there are opportunities for New Zealand food and beverage exporters. With one third of the population forecast to be more than 64 by 2030, the Japanese government will be promoting healthy living through campaigns. Health-oriented packaged products with low fat and added calcium are predicted to do well. (vi)
  • The Japanese economy is expected to rebound leading to busier lifestyles and a surge in convenience foods in pouch or bite-size forms. Sales of fresh food are also forecast to increase in line with health awareness, especially those easy to consume. (vii)
  • The wine market fell by 2.1 percent in the five years to 2010, but consumers are moving toward buying cheaper wines, New World wines and table wines, widely sold in supermarkets. (viii)

Import trends

  • In 2010, Japan was New Zealand's fourth largest export market for food and beverage products, worth US$1.04 billion. Wine accounted for 93 percent of New Zealand 's total beverage exports to Japan while dairy, fruit and nuts and meat took the greater share of the food.
  • Japan is the world's largest net food importer, approximately 61 per cent of its food consumption coming from food and beverage imports. Its top imports in this category include fish and seafood, meat, cereals, processed meat and seafood and grains and nuts.

Market entry and development

Market entry strategies

  • Enter the Japanese market only after having done extensive research and market preparation. Go in with a target market in mind, having tailored your product for this and identified the best channel. Historically, New Zealand companies have entered the market through a distributor.
  • Another approach is to establish a presence in Japan with representation. This more costly option can assure partners there that New Zealand businesses have committed to the market and they will be treated with added respect. For those with long term aspirations, this is recommended.
  • In this mature and discerning market, new products coming in must be adept at demonstrating a unique selling point. This combined with a clear market entry strategy will enhance the chances of success.
  • The quality-conscious Japanese consumer is easily bored and expects product innovation and new improved product offerings especially in the food and beverage sector due to commoditisation. Remember the Japanese view food as art, so presentation is absolutely key.
  • The Japanese consumer is increasingly interested in brand and the integrity of the supply chain. New Zealand producers are expected to deliver a safe, nutritious, sustainably sourced product which has strong marketing support.

Regulatory information

All goods imported into Japan are subject to duty and consumption tax with duties generally between 3 and 15 percent.

A simplified tariff system applies for low value imports valued at less than NZ$1,637. For more information go to, Japan Customs website.

All food and beverage imports must have their additives reviewed by the Food Safety Commission and approved by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare.

Go to For information on labelling requirements go to

Access for some products, particularly seafood and some dairy products such as milk powder, butter, whey and food preparations of flour, are restricted by import quotas or tariff quotas.

Market resources and contacts


Japan External Trade Organisation 

Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries 

Consumer Affairs Agency

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry


Japan New Zealand Business Council

Japan Food Chemical Research Foundation

Trade Events


Wine and Gourmet Japan

Tokyo Health Industry Show

Health Ingredients Japan



(i)Euromonitor International, 9 January 2012. Packaged food in Japan
(ii)Euromonitor International, 6 June 2011, Grocery Retailers in Japan.
(iii)Euromonitor International, 6 June 2011, Grocery Retailers in Japan
(iv) Euromonitor International, 9 January 2012, Packaged food in Japan.
(v)(Euromonitor International, 30 September 2011, Consumer Foodservice in Japan.
(vi) Euromonitor International 9 January 2012, Packaged food in Japan.
(vii) Euromonitor International , Fresh Food Sources 2011, Japan.
(viii)Euromonitor International, 2 March 2011. Wine in Japan.


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