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Japan: green tea industry.

Japan: Green tea industry

Japanese green tea is an historic crop, extending back at least 1,000 years. The first 1,000 years will have been kinder to this production than the next.

Times are changing in economies of production and also in consumer tastes in Japan - not just in tea but in all consumer products. Tea is a expensive to hand pluck and food habits are changing away from cuisine traditionally associated with green tea. Fortunately some factors guarantee the continued production and sale of the commodity.

A Japanese tea garden is a spectacular sight. All the bushs are immaculately groomed in a arched form. This is a result of the mechanical harvester most commonly utilized to "pluck" the leaves. Only on hillsides or marginal farms is hand plucking done. A petrol-powered cutter is drawn over the top of the bush. The bar cuts the leaves and a blower forces the leaves into a large sack which is then delivered to the factory. This mechanical harvesting allows enough economies to insure the continued cultivation of tea.

However tea production, like all agricultural enterprises, is hard work. With greater economic opportunities in other enterprises than farming, fewer people are expected to farm tea. This is the same in all industrial countries where traditional enterprises are gradually being replaced by less physically demanding ways of making money. Combine the labor intensive nature of tea with the high and escalating land values of Japan, and the production naturally has decreased.

This was not always the case. From 1965 to 1975, production increased from 77,449 metric tons That was the high point and the 1990 production was 89,900 MT. The biggest factor causing the decline not only in a production but naturally in the consumer demand is the decrease in rice consumption in Japan. The traditional 4-5 bowls a day in former times and still by the older population is replaced by perhaps one bowl by the younger population with a substitution by "fast" foods and other nontraditional Japanese dishs. Rice and green tea go together in the Japanese cuisine.

The shift to more Western foods means that Black and Oolong tea and coffee consumption is up to the direct detriment of Green tea.

The future of Japanese Green tea is not as bleak, as certain qualities guarantee its continued demand at about the current level with some slight erosion or upswings in any given year. The most important aspect is the high quality standards imposed by the Japanese government. All exports of 10 KG and up are inspected for quality and are subjected to chemical analysis; weights are verified, and shipments are validated. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry administers this program. The result is that Japanese green tea demands a high price because the quality is assured.

Certain parts of the world are receptive to this quality/price ratio and the deliveries to Europe in particular are expected to increase. In fact, the yearly increase is expected in the 10-15% range to reach perhaps 200 tons by 1995. This figure would represent about 50% of the total estimated exports for that year.

Healthy Beverage

Green tea is projected as a healthy beverage and it must be so. For centuries it has been touted as a cure or at least an aid in solving many ailments. As long as the consumer perceives the product in this manner - and Europeans evidently do - then the estimated target is probably attainable. The goal will be actively supported however with active marketing efforts from 1993 onwards. Direct mail to importers/wholesalers with literature outlining the attributes of the product, sampling, print media advertising, and tea salons will all be utilized to support the sale of product.

The health attributes of the tea plant have in fact been espoused by the Japanese and other large producers/consumers for many years. However outside the Orient the beneficial aspects have usually been relegated to the area of folk medicine. With the recent emphasis on using compounds from natural products to combat the ills of the industrial world, the claims for the healthy aspects of tea have been given rightful attention.

For more information concerning the attributes of Japanese Green tea and availability of supply please contact: Mr. Yuzo Ikeda, chairman, Japan Tea Exporters Assn, 8 1-1 Kitabancho,Shizuoka 420, Japan.

Table : Japan: Green Tea Exports
 Year Quantity
 1965 4,599
 1970 1,531
 1975 2,198
 1980 2,669
 1985 1,762
 1988 1,230
 1989 635
 1990 283

Source: Ikeda & Co. Ltd.

PHOTO : Mechanical tea plucking. Leaves are gathered into a cloth bag.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lockwood, George
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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