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Foodex serves up global frozen foods to hungry, affluent Japanese market.

Foodex Serves Up Global Frozen Foods To Hungry, Affluent Japanese Market

Billed as the ANUGA or SIAL of Asia, the 15th International Food & Beverage Exhibition and Conference was rich in diversity if not as overwhelming in volume as the European venues. At the stands: meat packers in stampede, while USA rice put on ice.

Time was when every respectable Japanese homemaker cooked from scratch, preparing her family's daily sustenance from recipes almost entirely native to her island universe. That was during a slower, pre-economic superpower era when women rarely returned to the work force after marriage.

Those times are gone. Yesterday's so-called "office ladies" have become today's "clerk-secretaries" -- permanent fixtures that transcend the tender years of the late-teens and early 20's. Then there's the female army of factory workers and their sisters in the service sector.

So it comes as no surprise that in a modern, fast-paced, industrially paramount and highly affluent Japan, prepared foods are now embraced as an essential part of every day life. With 60% of the country's women said to be returning to their jobs at some point after setting up a household, the future of the value-added frozen food business seems secure.

Recently published government statistics suggest that Japanese consumers are spending more money on meals consumed away from home. At the same time, the market for at-home convenience foods has never been better. And along with rising spending power has come greater Westernization. While the imported hamburger may still have a way to go to overtake guoyza (meat-filled dumplings) or soba (noodles) as fast foods of choice, the trend toward internationalization is unstoppable.

Indeed, a stroll through the streets of Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto will provide observers of the fairer sex with more colorful displays of fashionable French designer clothing than are to be seen in Paris. And kimonos, excepting those worn by old women, are largely relegated to the closet. When donned by the younger set it's usually on occasions of ceremony by a shrinking order of exquisite Geishas, and by tradition-minded brides on their wedding days.

Contemporary Japan is dotted with the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonald's, whose menu by now is certainly as global as those of generic Chinese and Italian eateries found in almost all corners of the earth. Meanwhile, Red Lobster restaurants are serving up favorite Japanese seafoods with Western flair. And at the Satin Doll jazz club in Tokyo's vibrant Roppongi entertainment district, French cuisine from escargot-stuffed mushrooms in cream to marinaded sardines in wine sauce is featured nightly.

These are the sights and savors of a nation in flux -- a land that has experienced dramatic political and social change during the past 45 years. Along with the post-World War II "economic miracle" has come a demand for labor that has spawned a previously unknown generation of working mothers whose job requirements put a severe crunch on time available for cooking. Hence the growing popularity of frozen and vacuum-packed dinners. Even snacks, fed to kids burning the midnight oil while cramming for school tests for college entrance examinations, are apt to be of the value-added variety.

And the plethora of such prepared cuisine -- sourced from both home and abroad -- was nowhere better in evidence last month than at the Foodex Japan '90 show held at the newly opened Nippon Convention Center on the eastern outskirts of Toyko. Quick Frozen Foods International (QFFI) was there to sample the fair's fare. A digest of its tasty findings follows:

Noodle dishes, often prepared simply with leeks or scallions and a soy sauce/horseradish mixture, are as Japanese as sake and rice cakes. The Chinese may have invented pasta, and the Italians may have perfected its multiple uses, but the talented chefs of this Pacific island nation have creatively added their flavorful touches in the process of popularizing the humble noodle.

Now frozen food manufacturers have adapted it for convenience markets by introducing boil-in-bag packs. Among the companies serving up such lines are Nisshin Food Products Ltd. and Shimadaya brand noodles. Stand passersby could hardly say no to offers of small, pre-plated portions and disposable chop sticks. With gusto, they demonstrated the proper way to eat green spinach noodles in Japan by practically inhaling the pasta in single, sweeping slurps.

From Nichirei to Tyson

Among the largest FF producers on the scene was Nichirei Corporation, whose complete line of retail and foodservice products include vegetables, noodles, meats, seafoods, fried and prepared foods, dairy products and desserts. The leading Japanese packer, which also happens to be the country's No. 1 refrigerated warehouse operator, served samples ranging from ethnically-prepared shrimp to Western-style chocolate cake.

Other major league domestic players sporting diversified ranges were C. Itoh & Co., Ltd., Kyokuyo Co., Nichinan Co., Nichiro Corp., Nippon Suisan Kaisa Ltd., and Toyo Menka Kaisha Ltd.

Nestle was perhaps the largest foreign transplant present in the huge hall designated for domestic producers. The world's foremost food company drew extensively from its multinational recipe strengths, showcasing everything from Stouffer's Foodservice escaloped apples and ice cream to Findus brand frozen pommes noisettes, twista pommes and hash brown patties. A new line of prepared frozen dishes was also unveiled for the retail market.

Among other Japan-established foreign brands or joint ventures at the show were McCain (frozen potatoes), Nichiro-Colonial (beef and poultry products), Tyson (chicken), Fishery Products International, and Campbell.

No `Gaijin' Rice!

Foreign exhibitors from as far afield as Argentina and Brazil to the USA and USSR were on hand, anticipating a period of brisker food trade two years hence when Tokyo is set to liberalize a number of farm product imports including beef and orange juice concentrate. But the fruit of long negotiated quota and tariff relief does not include rice, a sacred commodity whose protection from outside competition has fervent national support across a broad strate of Japanese society.

The issue of "food safety" is sacrosanct when it comes to the cherished grass plant staple, as the USA Rice Council was reminded in no uncertain terms. It was directed by the Japanese government's Food Agency to remove six varieties weighing 10 kilograms or so that were on display at the show. Seems that the American organization of growers and millers was judged guilty of exhibiting foreign rice with the intent of immediate or future sales, which is strictly taboo under Japan's Food Control Law.

"We, as the organizers, were annoyed by the (U.S.) rice exhibit that is in conflict with the Japanese law," said Nobuo Ogawa, executive vice president of the Japan Management Association, one of six sponsors of Foodex.

An official of the Food Agency, who spoke anonymously, stated: "This exhibition is intended as a sales campaign. We cannot permit foreign rice to be brought into Japan and displayed for trade purposes." He added that the presentation was designed "only to illustrate the different varieties of rice available in the United States."

Proponents of Japan's jingoistic rice policy -- and they include consumer groups as well as politically-influential farmers -- insist that a domestic monopoly is needed to guarantee that the rice supply is safe. They also believe that it is important to maintain inefficient agriculture at whatever cost -- especially rice paddy farming -- as a means to protect the country's environment from the degradation of further urban sprawl. Small wonder that real estate costs continue to shoot through the roof in this mountainous country.

Meanwhile, citizens are alleged to be content with paying highly inflated prices for homegrown rice out of patriotic devotion. But one doubts this in light of the many Japanese tourists said to discreetly pack their suitcases with inexpensive foreign rice before returning from overseas holidays.

The question of food safety has been brought up by domestic consumer groups worried about additives and preservatives contained in some imported meats. They argue that it is worth paying a steep premium for Kobe steak and other "Made in Japan" items in order to safeguard the nation's health.

Clearly, there is no denying that housewives are very concerned about the foods they feed their families. A recent nationwide survey showed safety to be the top ranking consumer worry, with 28% of the respondents indicating this was a reason they would not buy foreign beef.

These uninformed but well meaning beliefs, of course, have served to fuel the self interests of uncompetitive domestic producers. But one has to question if the average Japanese housewife, hit hard last year by a controversial 3% consumption tax on all retail purchases, would not welcome relatively cheap but high quality beef from abroad.

Nervousness over the safety of meat imports seemed to be the farthest thing from the minds of Foodex attendees as they herded into the American Meat Village pavilion and Australian stands for free tastes of barbecue grill specialties.

And on the last day of the show (when exhibitors are motivated to dispose of on-premise inventory) a lot of commerce was transacted among European sausage packers and crowds of Japanese show-goers snapping up bargains for personal use. True, the discounted, duty-free price was right. But if xenophobic food safety reservations were ever seriously harbored by these enthusiastic buyers, they are apparently shared no more.

Having perhaps cleared one psychological hurdle, imported meats have been arriving in Japan in record tonnage during recent years. If not in bulk for further processing, or in value added packs, then via foreign brands now owned by Japanese companies such as Colonial Beef in the USA.

Opportunity Abounds

Plenty of opportunity still exists for newcomers, however, as Japan's well traveled younger generation increasingly reaches for hamburgers and "frank-burgers" (the local McDonald's franchise lingo for hot dogs) instead os sashimi and sushi.

Having reported that, though, cooks will likely continue to prepare meats in three traditional styles -- sukiyaki, yakiniku and steak -- about 50% of the time they menu such items. The results of a consumer survey noted that favored methods of presentation will differ regionally, with European-style steaks and stews catching on in northeastern Japan, and ethnic recipes preferred in the southwest.

Exporters should be mindful that most Japanese consumers are not familiar with western style cuts of meat. Hence anybody keen on entering the market would do well to include suggested cooking instructions with their packs.

A Who's Who in FF

The foreign frozen food delegation at Foodex seemed to have done its homework pretty well in preparation for the exhibition. QFFI makes note of some of the more interesting presentations below:

* From France, Davigel S.A. and Primel shared a booth. The former promoted gourmet cakes, pies and entrees while the latter featured value added seafood packs.

* Almost 40 exhibitors were on hand at the Netherlands group stand. Well profiled was the Dutch frozen potato industry represented by companies such as Farm Frites, Aviko, Keizer and Nuka.

* Among the Danish contingent was Dat-Schaub (whose wide range goes from frozen vegetables and fruits to beef, chicken, hamburger and seafood). Also present was Danpo (chicken) and Royal Greenland, the latter of which used the occasion to introduce smoked halibut to the Asian market. "We've been successful in selling coldwater prawns here for some time," advised Jorgen Norup, vice president of the Aalborg-headquartered packer. "Now we're offering a low priced but tasty alternative to salmon."

* From the land down under, the Great Australian Pie Co. Pty. Ltd. was busy passing out frozen beef pies. Other FF outfits on the scene were Southern Processors Ltd. (a vegetable packer) and Aquatas Ptd. Ltd. (frozen Atlantic Salmon and ocean trout).

* Leading up Belgium's frozen vegetable and fruit brigade were Frostimpex N.V. and Boreal N.V.

* The big FF guns from Canada included McCain Foods Limited, Omstead Foods, and Cavendish Farms.

* Noon International (vegetables and fruits) and Chef Francisco (soups) shared a booth in the USA pavilion. Not far away was found Colonial Beef Co. (now Japanese-owned), Fresh Island Fish of Maui, Lamb-Weston Inc. (vegetables, potatoes, pizza), Valley Packing (vegetables), Tree Top, Inc. (fruit juices) and John Handy Co. (a Japanese-owned shellfish packer).

* Gadi Gil, managing director of Gat Food Canneries, Givat Hayim, Israel, manned his company's stand. Surrounded by a selection of juices running the flavor gamut from orange and grapefruit to mango nectar and lemon drink, he told QFFI that last year's volumes were very high. "As the world is evidently heating up due to the Greenhouse Effect, people are consuming more cold drinks," he explained. "The European market was tremendous for us in 1989."

Another Israeli outfit pitching Japanese buyers was Tivall. Based in Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, the packer of meat substitute products has introduced stuffed peppers, French-style vegetarian schnitzel with wine and mushrooms, and a Garden Gourmet line of entrees featuring items such as vege-nuggets and vege-cutlets.

Impressive ASEAN Showing

* The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) teamed up in a communal stand to show off products from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Among the special items displayed were glutinous rice balls from Jinjili Frozen Food Pte. Ltd. of Singapore; Vietnamese-style Spring Rolls from Thai Agri Foods Co. of Bangkok, Thailand; exotic frozen fruits such as rambutan, durian and sugar apple from Pisitichai International Co. and Inter-Region Foods Co., Ltd., both of Bangkok; Vegetable Spring Rolls from K.G. Pastry Products Sdn. Bhd. of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

* And not to go unnoticed was the attractive frozen prepared fish packs offered by Sealord Products Limited of Nelson, New Zealand. Deep Sea Dory Fillets were unveiled to the Japanese retail market at the show.

PHOTO : Shimadaya frozen noodles were irresistable to most Japanese show-goers who passed the

PHOTO : stand at Foodex.

PHOTO : This hard worker at the Dat-Schaub stand was kept busy handling out samples of the

PHOTO : Copenhagen, Denmark-based company's offerings. Its extensive export line runs the gamut

PHOTO : from frozen beef, chicken, vegetables, fish and lamb to sausages, meatballs and

PHOTO : hamburgers.

PHOTO : A smiling young Japanese saleslady shows a pack of Farm Frites frozen potatoes at Foodex.

PHOTO : The Oudenhoorn-headquartered company was one of many from the Netherlands exhibiting at

PHOTO : the Tokyo show.

PHOTO : Perhaps one of the most popular attractions at Foodex was the large American Meat Village

PHOTO : pavilion sponsored by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. With further liberalization of beef

PHOTO : imports coming in two years, buyers herded to the company stands to see what will soon be

PHOTO : available at affordable prices.

PHOTO : While frozen fish items are the mainstay of Nuka B.V., a Breda, Holland-headquartered

PHOTO : concern, frozen potato croquettes and pommes duchesse are also produced. Fred Kamsteeg,

PHOTO : managing director of the Perkins Foods Plc company, displays some of the same at Foodex

PHOTO : (formally known as the 15th International Food & Beverage Exhibition for Japan and Asia).

PHOTO : Royal Greenland, which has already scored success selling cold water prawns in Japan, is

PHOTO : now strongly promoting smoked halibut. The pre-sliced product has the taste of a delicacy

PHOTO : while being priced at a discount to salmon.

PHOTO : Gadi Gil, the relatively new managing director of Gat Food Canneries, used the Tokyo

PHOTO : venue to promote the Givat Hayim, Israel-based company's wide selection of juice products

PHOTO : and concentrates.
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Title Annotation:15th International Food and Drink Exhibition
Author:Saulnier, John M.
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Previous Article:A view of what's hot and what's not on today's fish price/supply scene.
Next Article:Private label microwave sandwiches, breakfasts bucking prepared FF barrier?

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