• QA 116
    How should one approach the Japanese market?
    How to approach the Japanese market?
    Asked by:
    Researcher/extension officer - Vietnam

    The Japanese coffee market is extremely dynamic, currently showing some 6% annual growth in consumption, and offers excellent prospects.  However, Japanese buyers are demanding and do not easily enter into new relationships. 

    New suppliers should know therefore that they have to invest considerable time and effort before such relationships become fruitful. One of the main obstacles is to convince roasters to use an unknown coffee (or supplier). Japanese roasters are generally very conservative when it comes to their product range, preferring to stick with familiar names rather than to experiment with the unknown. The challenge is therefore to convince roasters that your coffee is worthwhile for them to consider, because of quality and/or price. Someone will have to show a roaster how your coffee could be included in their blends and what characteristics that coffee offers. Your best approach is to link up with an importeror a trade house, rather than try to deal directly, because Japanese roasters mostly, if not always, buy through intermediaries*. 

    Japan imported some 7.8 million bags of coffee in 2005 of which 6.9 million bags were green coffee. Of these about 470,000 bags came from Vietnam which suggests the Japanese market already knows the Vietnam origin well. We assume therefore that your interest is in the specialty coffee segment, rather than mainstream or commercial grade coffee. Here it is worthwhile to note that Japan is a major importer of good quality washed robusta but, the quality requirements are exceedingly high.

    As mentioned in topic 03.01.06 of the Guide, the Japanese specialty market is not dissimilar to the United States, and it too has four distinctive segments

    • Almost mythical name coffees:Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona etc;
    • Good quality, straight origin estate or area coffee;
    • Decent standard qualities;
    • Branded blends;

    Attempting to create a stand-alone brand image for a new coffee will be extremely expensive, will take much time and may ultimately not be successful. One should also note that until recently there were no dedicated specialty importers although most importers handle at least some specialty coffee. The specialty segment is changing however as evidenced by the establishment of the Japan Specialty Coffee Association who are at www.scaj.org

    Without wishing to pre-empt anyone's response we would suggest that your best prospects probably lie in the Branded Blends segment. Further more, we believe your first approach should include extensive information on your company, your history, your products and your objectives. If you intend to submit any samples to indicate what you can provide then please ensure you only send the very best you can produce…

    *The All Japan Coffee Association represents the mainstream industry -info@coffee.ajca.or.jp and may be able to provide you with names/addresses of its importers and trade members.

    Posted 19 September, 2006

    Related chapter(s):
    Related Q & A:
    QA032 and QA044