Can Irish beef be the next watermelon bread in Japan?
Why Japan's beef market may be a tough nut for Irish exporters to crack
Reduced tariffs and increased access to Japan is good news for Irish beef exports, but persuading Japan's 126m people to eat Irish beef may prove difficult.
Japan is home to 125m people and watermelon bread. The country that is credited with coming up with growing square watermelons - because they are easier to store and cut up - then came up with watermelon bread.
Suika Pan as it's known in Japan looks and tastes like watermelon and for Japanese people, with a long-known fondness for all kinds of cute and kitsch, watermelon bread is a winner. It remains to be seen if Irish beef can be a similar hit with Japan's consumers who want innovation, convenience, single portions and health benefits from their food choices.
Watermelon bread looks good on Instagram, is certainly cute can be sold in single servings and could possibly claim some 'healthy' fruit links. How Irish beef could position itself in such a market remains to be seen, and it may have to think beyond a 'clean, green image'.
Under the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement tariffs on Irish beef will be reduced over the coming years from the current 38.5pc and the Department of Agriculture is currently leading a trade mission to Japan and South Korea to promote Irish exports.
This is good news for beef exporters looking to find and develop new markets for beef exports in light of the looming Brexit threat and with 50pc of Irish beef exports currently going to the UK, exports to countries further afield may prove vital for the sector.
Japan, while a considerable distance away, is in many ways an ideal market for Irish beef. The South East Asia region is home to 600m people and 50pc of the world's middle classes live in Asia and there is not enough meat production in all of South America to feed the demand for beef from South East Asia.
And Japan is key to Asian markets. It is considered by many as the key Asian influencer for culture and food. Tokyo is home to 20m people and it's a population that likes to eat out. Tokyo has 160,000 restaurants, compared to 40,000 in Paris, and Bord Bia's Ciaran Gallagher says Japanese consumers are some of the most exacting in the world and it takes a long time to grow business in Japan.