Food and beverage industry recruitment in Japan: what’s behind this complex and evolving market?

Japan’s food and beverage industry is one of the most complex in the Asia Pacific. Although these complexities can prove challenging, Japan’s constantly food and beverage industry presents a wealth of interesting recruitment opportunities for talented individuals.

With over one hundred million adult consumers, an increasing demand for westernised dietary habits and imported products, Japan’s multi-layered distribution system and unique business relationship mindset all help to make it one of the most exciting food and beverage markets in the world. In this article we’ll provide a market overview whilst also looking at country’s changing tastes and demands.

Market overview

As already mentioned, the food and beverage industry in Japan is extremely complex and constantly evolving. The older generation accounts for a significant proportion of the population and tends to stick to a largely traditional diet. However, younger consumers are adopting more Western-style cuisines and dietary habits, along with an increasing preference for buying packaged foods and eating out, rather than home cooking of fresh food. This has led to a change in the amounts and types of foods consumed in Japan.

Although Japan is small in size it has a large population. As a result the country relies heavily on imported foods, whilst natural disasters over recent years such as the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, combined with successive record-breaking rainy seasons, have had a significant impact upon domestic food production. Furthermore, the population of Japan is starting to age and shrink, with longer life expectancies and a decreasing birth rate. This means that demand for food and beverages is likely to see a decrease in the future.

Over recent years food imports to Japan have risen and exports have fallen, with the top three imported products being cereals, fish and meat. The Japanese government is keen to reduce the country’s reliance upon imported food and beverage products and has set a goal of raising food self-sufficiency to 45% by 2055.

Japan’s fragmented food and beverage retail network

Japan has an extremely fragmented food and beverage retail network of over 135,000 outlets across a range of different types of channels. ‘Konbini’ are Japan’s own unique version of the convenience store with a vast network which has proved the main exception to the fragmentation trend. The konbini network has consolidated over recent years, leading to domination by three operators who have a total of just under 60,000 stores nationwide.

Other retail channels are largely dominated by small, unconsolidated chains which makes it difficult to estimate their exact number. Suburbs and smaller cities are dominated by supermarkets with a limited number of market leaders. There has been talk of consolidating Japan’s food retail channels since the early 2000s, however only a small number of attempts have actually taken place, with no indications that this fragmented sector is heading towards further acquisitions.

Multi-layered distribution channels

Japan’s distribution channels are multi-layered and can prove difficult to navigate. Instead of primarily dealing with just one or two leading distributors, market players are dependent upon a strong network of personal relationships and contacts, whilst also interacting with a complex ecosystem of importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. As a result, the complexities of the distribution network makes it open to a wide range of opportunities for food and beverage industry recruitment in Japan.

An emphasis on changing tastes and demands

Western food products such as dairy, meat, fats and oils are growing in popularity in Japan whilst consumption of rice, seafood and fish is falling. The demand for new experiences and rising disposable incomes, combined with continued urbanisation are leading to an increase in the variety of foods on offer.

The demand for convenience foods and ready meals is also on the rise in Japan due to an increase in the number of single-person households. In addition, as increasing numbers of women enter the labour market, there’s less time for home cooked meals and for families to eat together, whilst an ageing population is also contributing.

Health and health foods are also becoming increasingly important to Japanese consumers, with government promotion of healthier lifestyles and eating habits. This focus upon health has resulted in increased demand for foods which are seen as healthier options, such as low sugar, low fact foods, nutritional supplements and fresh organic produce.

Peak Recruitment – food and beverage recruitment consultants Japanese

At Peak Recruitment we specialise in matching high quality candidates with the best opportunities in Japan’s diverse food and beverage industry. From food and drink analysts, through to experts in logistics, supply chain management and seasonings, our expertise covers all aspects of food and beverage recruitment throughout the Asia Pacific region.