Japan’s strawberry war: prefectures introducing new varieties, domestic output increases 20% in 10 years

FUKUOKA, TOCHIGI, KUMAMOTO, OITA, MIYAGI, IBARAKI, WAKAYAMA, SAGA, and NARA, Jan. 15 – Did you know January 15th is Strawberry Day in Japan? A Japanese word for strawberries, ichigo, sounds like ichi (one), go (five), and that’s why. The strawberry is a hot product in Japan, as many prefectures accelerate the strategic introduction of unique new-generations locally to heat up the competition. The new varieties include high-yield berries with good flavors, large ones suitable for branding, and firm-fleshed fruits good for export. And after the race among the fruits with different characters, their unit prices improved, and the total domestic production increased by 20% in 10 years.

The competition to create new local varieties began in the 2000s due to the drop in the prices of conventional sorts. The first successful new strawberry brand was Amaou of Fukuoka Prefecture. Its popularity went across the border, and the demand for export now increases the price. The 20-year-old high-branded strawberry is still a staple product of Fukuoka, which says that they intend to keep topping other prefectures in terms of the unit price.

In Tochigi, over 20% of all strawberries in the prefecture are now Tochiaika, a new local brand. Maintaining the position as Japan’s top strawberry producer in terms of volume is one of the most important issues for Tochigi, so, it plans to make the ratio of the large-berry variety, which yields 30% more than Tochiotome, a previous variety, to 80% in 2027.

Many also try to boost the shipments at the year-end to meet the high seasonal demand. In Kumamoto, the production of Yubeni, a new early-season variety, increased to over half of the output of the prefecture. Printing Kumamon, a super popular bear character representing Kumamoto, on their packages has been very effective, too, and “many foreign buyers choose the product by the name,” according to a Kyushu-based wholesaler. Oita also weighs heavily on the production by the year-end and promotes Berryts, a new, very-early-season berry with bright red skin. Since it fruits several times, the prefecture can expect stable shipment at time of high demand, and there is a demand for cakes as it’s red right up to the core.

In Saga, the production of Ichigo-san grew to 95% only in four years after its official registration. The prefecture plans to market it as a new variety with a 20% higher yield than Saga Honoka, a conventional variety, and excellent flavor. Nara Prefecture is extending the market of Koto Miyabi to the Tokyo metropolitan area by appealing its superb taste. Shizuoka produces Kirapika, a variety that is more likely to have DX-grade large berries, and it’s traded at a high unit price, mainly in a flat pack style.

The domestic strawberry production expanded to 180.9 billion yen in 2020, up 21% in ten years from 2010. The production area decreased due to the aging population, and more prefectures introduced new local varieties to improve farmer income and prefecture brand power. In recent years, the price of raw materials has soared, and there are growing expectations for these unique local varieties.

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