TOKYO, June 24 – Domestically-grown soybeans occupied 22 percent of soybeans used to produce natto in 2018, marking the highest proportion since statistics were first compiled in 2003, according to Japan Natto Cooperative Society Federation.
Makers of the fermented soybeans are increasing the use of domestic soybeans in response to growing tendency among consumers to opt for food items produced in Japan, and also because such soybeans are more suited to processing compared to imported ones.
However, since imported soybeans still occupy nearly 80 percent of soybeans used in natto production, efforts by producing regions to respond to growing demands will become the key to raising the nation’s self-sufficiency of soybeans.
The federation’s statistics show that 148,000 tons of soybeans were used as ingredients for natto production in 2018, up 3 percent from the previous year. The use of domestic soybeans totaled 33,000 tons, up 10 percent.
The proportion of homegrown soybeans had been around 8 to 10 percent until 2013, but it rose 12 percentage points in the five years after that, rising 2.5 times in terms of volume.
Japan’s natto market has been expanding steadily in recent years. According to the federation, the natto market totaled 237.5 billion yen in 2018, up 7 percent from a year before. The market size marked a record high three years in a row, reflecting the increasing popularity of natto among consumers as a nutritious, healthy product.
More natto makers are increasing the use of domestic soybeans, as they “contain a good balance of protein and sugar and are well-suited for processing,” said a federation official.
Azuma Food Stuffs, the nation’s No. 3 natto manufacturer based in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, uses domestic soybeans for 40 percent of its production. “More retailers are making orders specifically for natto made from homegrown soybeans,” the firm said.
Soybean producers are expanding shipments to cope with increasing demands. According to the federation, 70 percent of marketed natto products are made from small-grain soybeans. A major natto maker said: “We use as ingredients small-grain soybean varieties made specifically for natto or small-grain soybeans sorted out from other varieties.”
HOKUREN federation of agricultural cooperatives based in Hokkaido, a major soybean producing region, said they are calling on farmers to increase cultivation of varieties suited for natto production. “The crop acreage of such soybeans sold by HOKUREN increased 30 percent in the last five years,” HOKUREN said.