TOKYO, Feb. 26 ─ Japan’s frozen vegetable imports broke the 1 million ton barrier last year for the first time, driven by rising prices in domestically-produced vegetables.
Frozen vegetable import volume rose 7% to 1,009,000 tons in 2017 from a year earlier, with stem vegetables such as broccoli and spinach being the biggest increase, data from the finance ministry showed.
The majority of frozen vegetable imports come from China and the U.S.
Frozen potato, which account for about 40 percent of total frozen vegetable imports, increased 8% to 378,000 tons due to a poor harvest in the northern island of Hokkaido after heavy rains last year.
“Demands from businesses, as well as households, have been growing due to rising prices of domestic vegetables,” said the Japan Frozen Food Association.
“Japanese retailers vigorously promote frozen vegetables as an alternative with more affordable prices,” it added.
Indeed, Japanese convenience store chains have seen a surge in frozen vegetable sales.
Lawson Store 100 reported its frozen vegetable sales climbed 20% in January from the same month a year ago. Broccoli and spinach sales each soared 50%. The Japanese company sells a frozen vegetable package at 100 yen.
“Fresh vegetable prices are volatile, but frozen vegetables can offer a more affordable range,” a Lawson official said.
The trend has prompted worries among vegetable producers that the rise of cheap frozen imports could have damaging effects on locally-produced vegetables.