Cheese consumption in Japan hits record high in 2019 backed by increase in imports

TOKYO, Jul. 29 – Consumption of cheese in Japan marked a record high of 358,229 tons in fiscal 2019, up 1.5 percent from the previous year, amid the increasing popularity mainly of natural cheese, according to the agriculture ministry.

The annual consumption volume of cheese posted an all-time high for five years in a row.

While shipments of imported cheese rose along with the enforcement of major trade agreements, domestically-produced cheese products continued to lose their share in the market.

The key for domestic cheesemakers to gain a larger share in the expanding market is to secure sufficient supply of milk and develop attractive products.

While domestic consumption kept growing, domestic production declined for three consecutive years, as the weakening domestic dairy industry has not been able to supply enough raw milk to respond to expanding demand.

The market share of domestically-made cheese was 13.1 percent in fiscal 2019, dropping 0.5 percentage points from the previous year and 6 percentage points from 10 years before. Meanwhile, the share of imported cheese rose to 86.9 percent, as shipments from the Oceanian and European regions increased.

Consumption of natural cheese rose 3.5 percent from a year before to 217,718 tons, largely boosted by imports, while that of processed cheese decreased 1.5 percent to 140,511 tons, marking a decline for the first time in five years with both domestically-made and imported products posting a year-on-year drop.

Demand in the domestic cheese market has recently been strong backed by increasing at-home consumption of cheese as nibbles for drinks or an ingredient for sweets making and cooking. Growing awareness of cheese’s health benefits among consumers has also pushed up its consumption.

In such a situation, as trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement took effect, “trade firms and retailers actively promoted foreign-made cheese,” said an industry official.

Demand for in-home consumption continues to surge in fiscal 2020 as more people stayed home amid the new coronavirus pandemic, and the overall consumption in the April-June period rose more than 10 percent from the same period last year.

“Domestic demand has potential to grow even further and consumers take a great interest in domestically-made products,” said an official of the farm industry’s Milk and Dairy Products Division.

Domestic cheesemakers “can find their way in the market if they focus on fresh cheese and soft cheese and make freshness their selling point to outrival foreign products, and also work on adding value to their products,” the official said.

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