When Bioca was founded in 1996, we took notice of organic foods that were popular in the West. We started a company specializing on organic foods, getting a head start in the market. At the time, the organic JAS standard did not exist and we only handled imported products that were certified outside of Japan. The Japanese organic JAS certification began in 2000 and our company was certified as organic JAS importer in 2001 and organic JAS producer in 2009.
We directly import organic lemon juice, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic balsamic vinegar, and organic pasta. Products supplied from domestic importers are organic sugar and organic brown sugar. Three types of organic sauce and four types of organic dressings are produced domestically in our factory. Lemon juice and olive oil account for 60-70% of the total sales. We also have private labels and gift products.
After our products are shipped to domestic wholesalers, they are distributed to supermarkets, department stores, organic specialty stores, and online stores across Japan. We also directly sell our products to retailers, individuals, restaurants, and food manufacturers.
Organic JAS standard is currently the only certification for organic foods in Japan. Customers looking for organic products will always look for this mark. When a product has an organic JAS mark, it means that it meets many standards, pesticide-free, additive-free, and non-GMO. The Japanese organic JAS standard is less strict than the EU standard, but all products we import also meet the EU standard. Generally speaking, it is possible for us to handle organic products with non-Japanese certifications as long as they meet the same standards as organic JAS, but we ask the companies to register for organic JAS certification.
Does the product already have an organic certification that is the same level as the Japanese organic JAS standard? Also, does your country’s agent certify organic JAS?
It has been 20 years since our company was founded and the domestic organic food scene has changed drastically. General consumers are more aware of organic foods and thanks to the strong influence of celebrities, many TV programs and magazines are covering this topic. First, foods that celebrities eat become popular in the West. Then, Japanese celebrities would copy that and it soon spreads to the general consumers through the different media. In the past, people thought that organic products tasted bad, but this has completely changed. Now, there is a common perception that cuisines using foods with no use of pesticides and additives have a real savory flavor. There is definitely a trend of healthy products in Japan because organic products could be purchased from anywhere using the Internet and we receive updated news from the West. In addition, organic products are spreading in the field of nursing care food and school lunches, and our sales channel has extended from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and even to Singapore and China through wholesalers. Our sales have doubled since 3 or 4 years ago.
We are considering gluten free products and super foods as well, but there are many products out there with little health effects. It is not easy to really think about the health of our customers and provide good products. This is our main mission so we don’t want to act hastily. Since we have many active senior customers and the senior population will increase in the future, we’re developing food that meets their needs (less sodium, etc.).
Product quality is the main issue of products made abroad. The reason why Japanese consumers prefer domestic products is because there are still many cases of defective products imported from abroad. This is especially the case for organic products because it contains no preservatives. If a product has perfect quality control from the farm to when it is shipped, it can capture the hearts of Japanese consumers even if the price is a little high. Japanese organic product consumers are not moved by fancy packaging or promotion that costs money, but by how much you can prove the safety of the product. In addition, it is important to build a relationship of mutual trust with Japanese importers like us. We are currently in business with Italian and Spanish companies and they are very careful about their responses. The true quality of the company really shows at a time of an emergency. Companies with poor communication and quality control will not have a long lasting relationship with Japanese companies.
We think that the organic market will continue to grow in Japan. The population is aging and there will be higher demands for nursing care foods that are safe and high in nutrition. Beside that, foods with background stories and high nutrition (for example, a food with high nutrition and beauty effects that is traditionally eaten) that are still unknown in Japan would be preferable.