Feature | New premium rice brands flood the Japanese market

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – Fierce competition to produce premium rice brands have erupted since the elimination of the rice acreage reduction policy this year. By focusing on rice varieties that satisfy the demands of consumers, farmers aim to increase their revenue. Municipalities in rice production areas are also putting more efforts into promoting rice brands.

Fufufu is a rice brand launched this year by the Toyama prefectural government. The brand marketing budget was more than ¥250 million, the highest-ever for the promotion of an agricultural product for the prefecture, and their advertising campaign employed the services of a popular actress.

Miyagi Prefecture aims to conquer the market with its branded rice, Date Masayume, which was named after Date Masamune, a famous warlord from the Sengoku period (the late 15th century to the late 16th century).

Kochi Prefecture’s “Yosakoi Bijin” has performed well in taste tests, with about 60 percent of people saying the variety tastes better than Koshihikari, one of the most popular premium rice varieties.

Suzunobu, a rice shop in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, sells about 60 kinds of rice from around the country. Customers often shop as if they were buying sake or wine, buying small quantities of different brands, according to the store.

Suzunobu owner Toyozo Nishijima, 56, said: “Rice is no longer considered to be simply a staple food. It has become more like a luxury ingredient.”

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, 52 new rice varieties were registered this year, the highest number in the past 10 years. The number of registrations is increasing every year — there are now 795 registered rice brands, up about 50 percent from 10 years ago.

However, the diverse range of varieties on offer has led to higher rice prices. As of October this year, the average price among all rice brands was ¥15,707 per 60 kilograms — up 1.3 percent from a year earlier and marking an increase for the fourth consecutive year.

There is concern that there will be a decline in the cultivation of affordable varieties as more and more farmers are producing premium rice brands. If high prices become the norm, consumers could start turning away from rice, so some areas are shifting toward producing low-priced varieties.

By News Desk