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Japanese cheesemakers fret over EU trade deal

40 Comments
By Natsuko Fukue

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"We're concerned that demand for cheese made in Japan might be lost," 

As you should. Precisely because Japanese cheese is a bland, unified product is the reason consumers should be provided choices. Listen, Japan: you make great cars, but your cheese is terrible. You've got to make a choice: cars or cheese.

24 ( +24 / -0 )

"I think the only way is to improve the quality and make delicious cheese. I think we can somehow survive if we do that."

Nope, the only way is to stop ripping off consumers. Work smarter, improve productivity and reduce costs and ppl will buy your products i/o imported euro cheese. Having to pay 700-800 yen (at best) for a poor quality, mini Brie 125g is a disgrace.

Cheese, OTC drugs, most fruits & veges, rice etc are a massive rip-off.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Japanese cheesemakers fret over consumer recognition of real cheese.

17 ( +17 / -0 )

Japanese consumers prefer a softer taste, because their exposure to a tasty cheese is so limited if at all. When your hotel cheese is better than what you can buy reasonably at a supermarket.....you've got some serious issues. I think he knows that the competition will raise customer demand for something other than small cubes of expensive putty.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

"..."Not many Japanese people like cheese with very strong flavors. One way for us to compete is to produce cheese with mild flavors which more Japanese people would like," he said...."

So ALL Japanese people don't like flavorsome cheese?

Therein lies the crux of the problem. A lack of knowledge of the market mixed with "we can't reproduce those wonderful flavors, so we will promote average as the best for our unique Japanese palates".

Sorry - the Japanese world I operate in, loves the world wide tastes of cheeses of all backgrounds.

Why on earth do Japanese food producers obsess over trying to be the best in the world for all of their produce. For a coupla examples outa many, there's no way they can produce the quality of wine and cheese of many other countries because the raw resources are simply not suitable for growing here or available.

Japan is great for producing short grain paddy field rice and does it exceptionally well. It's not suited for producing hard wheat of the varieties suited to making the best pasta. So be it.

Japan can never make great cheese on a largish scale.

Accept it. Yakult did and is prospering.

13 ( +13 / -0 )

"Kazuhiko Ochiai still remembers his first taste of cheese when he visited France, a palate pleaser that inspired the former researcher to start producing his own variety in Japan.

But he now frets that a massive EU-Japan trade deal could spark a flood of cheap cheese imported from Europe that could take a generous slice out of his own business."

Can't the Japanese government renegotiate their trade deal with the EU like someone else is doing? But wait... cheap cheese is easier on people's wallets.... OK, can't Ochiai figure out how to produce his cheese any more cheaply? Using Japanese technology and all that...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Cheese is paired with food and wine the world over. Japan has a large Sake and Sushi history so Japanese cheese makers should be looking at pairing their products to compliment Sake and Sushi to survive in your market. European wines and foods have a limited appeal to the Japanese palate so by pairing with traditional Japanese foods it will be the future for your cheese industry survival. Will go well in bento box's and ekiben.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

I actually like Japanese cheese from Hokkaido, and imported cheese, too, especially Australian cheddar. I'm looking forward to cheaper European cheese but I'll still buy Japanese camembert and brie, also.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There is excellent cheese in Okinawa. Look for the Cheese Guy!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The day I can walk into my local Mandai supermarket and buy some decent cheese which doesn't lack a wonderful intense flavor, I shall be content.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Interesting take on "Free Trade"....

Like "tariff" which is primarily used to either protect domestic production or to prevent "dumping" by foreign producers which may negatively affect the domestic market and economic stability, forces domestic producers to "compete" domestically to "improve" their products and production process and hopefully expand outward internationally, "free trade" can also stimulate the same product improvement and production process but competing internationally. That as with tariffs affects profits.

But that "stress" can be interpreted as an obstacle and a reason to blame others or take it as an incentive to find the hows and ways to improve the products and the production process to compete and to surpass the competition internationally as many technical companies have done.

I am hoping that these cheese producers do continue to improve and meanwhile "market" their "style" and "type" of cheese internationally, in this case France. For all we know French people may find Japanese cheese as a good alternative to what they already have.

The French have "sushi" and they love it. Their chefs use "wasabi" in their famous cooking and call it one of the best spices. To top it off, Suntory's whiskey is now world renown and no. 1 rated. The Japanese cup-noodle is one of the most eaten fast-food in many countries and it does not need a restaurant or chefs to cook it.

So don't fret... Do better... Look at the larger picture now.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Did I just read that he is worried about cheap imports, nah, cheap imported food in Japan is non existent. They make it so the Japanese equivalent is always cheaper. The only difference will be choice , but at a cost.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

This is the really stupid thing about Japanese economics. Japan imports 70% if its food, but imported produce is much cheaper than Japanese produce. Again, most of the money spent on produce leaves the country. It should be the opposite way around with Japanese produce being affordable and imported foods being more expensive to encourage people to buy domestic produce, thus keeping the money in the country.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

So the country that gave us natto and shiokara can't handle cheese with very strong flavours?

I've never knowingly tried Japanese cheese, but given readers' comments about it, this sounds like a self-preserving rationalisation to me. Best way for the industry to improve is through meeting the demands of more educated consumers.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

No need to fret.... as everyone knows since JA and J govt propaganda has been spouting it for decades , Japanese produce from rice to fruit and vegies to cheese is " superior " and bettet tasting than imports so J customers will undoubtedly continue to buy domestic over the " inferior " imports...right?...Or could it be it was all a whole lot of BS?...No better way to find out then letting customers vote with their wallets..

Finding it hard to feel sympathy for overprotected domestic producers whose business is " booming" as the article says but who continue to charge outrageous prices , ripping off the average Taro.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

2 ( +2 / -0 )

And, what's up with the stupid, lame paper mask? Have not cheeses been created by countless generations of mask-free cheese-meisters? PLUS, this dude's nose is above the mask, rendering it useless. Yes, I truly revile those zombie-masks. Please, Japan, ditch them. You've been duped. End of rant. And, yes, to the pro-cheesers comments above.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

I look forward to being able to buy decent cheese without being ripped off. Great news.

This reminds of shochu makers almost 30 years ago who were all expecting to be pushed out of business when the heavy tariffs on imported whiskey and spirits were lifted. Who would buy shochu when they could buy Johnny Walker Black for the same price?

Fast forward: shochu makers upped their game, and are doing booming business.

Same with cheese. People tend to prefer local foods to imports when the option is available. If the Japanese learn to actually like European cheese with flavor, then make cheese with real flavor. If a cheesemaker is worried about business because of this, it's almost an admission that they think their cheese is inferior. Make better cheese - problem solved.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Can't regularly supply butter, so can't see there being a cheese boom anytime soon unless they further reduce the thickness of each slice and reduce the number of slices to three per pack. Raise the price too as competition of cheep foreign cheese that's not cheep in its home country per say just cheeper than what's available here. Aust NZ 500g for ¥500 to ¥700

2 ( +2 / -0 )

More cheese at reasonable prices!

Who wins?

The consumer!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I've tried a lot of Japanese cheese - can't do without it when I pick up a bottle of Australian or French wine (which is almost daily), but back here in Canada (which has its own dairy protection racket) I just bought a very tasty two-year old cheddar, 600 grams for the equivalent of ¥800. And the 200-gram package of imported Italian Padano beside it in my fridge cost me about ¥350. The price of the latter will soon drop, thanks to the recent Canada-EU free trade agreement. The last time I bought a 400-gram round of French brie I paid about ¥800, and that price will soon go down, too. Japan has a long way to go before its people enjoy variety and good prices when it comes to cheese, but I hope it happens. There's nothing like a cheese plate beside a plate of various crackers at an informal event at home, like a Super Bowl party, or World Cup game.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The cheese here is awful, since when is plastic cheese considered real cheese? Japanese cheese has no taste, I miss Cheddar that is strong enough to make the roof of your mouth tingle; creamy, nutty Guryere; gooey Gorgonzola; crumbly Wenslydale.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Japanese cheesemakers fret over EU trade deal and the errosion of their exorbernt profit margins

there fixed that for them.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Luddite, don’t forget Reblochon, Manchego, Roquefort, Double Gloucester, Blue Vinney, Stinking Bishop Cornish Yarg, Caerphilly, and Waterloo!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Yes indeed, and here are five of the best:

http://www.lancashirelife.co.uk/food-drink/food-and-drink-features/5-local-cheeses-from-lancashire-you-should-try-1-4037263

The day we can eat such cheese, at reasonable prices, here in Japan will be a miracle.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japanese cheese is as worst as English cheese but the latter never got thx Allah a marketshare on the wahalla of global cheesemaking, continental Europe. Given the current circumstances future market chances for cheddar etc. will be second to none anyway :)

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Much of the Japanese cheese industry deserves to rot, considering the bland, sub-par product most cheesemakers give us.

These fretting cheesemakers have the wrong view of the market. They're viewing it as a zero-sum, zero-growth game. While the food market overall may not have a lot of room for growth, especially with a shrinking population, cheese has room to take over a much larger share of people's diets. Partly, this requires getting people eating cheese from a young age, which also means getting their parents eating cheese. Partly, this means putting out better, cheaper products along with high-quality specialty products.

Flooding the Japanese market with cheaper cheeses will be disruptive. That's true across nearly all heavily subsidized Japanese agricultural industries. But, with cheese, the market will grow. Japanese people love specialty, premium products, and cheese is full of those. Cheese has tons of relatively cheap, mass-market products that Japanese cheesemakers won't be able to compete with. The mass-market cheeses, however, are gateway products to get people turned on to the exceptional premium cheeses that exist.

Japanese cheesemakers can excel in the specialty market. The upper boundary for what people are willing to pay for top-grade cheeses is very high. Cheesemakers simply need to realize that their way forward is to accept a mass market that undercuts them, while cultivating from that bigger foundation of cheese eaters a larger market of refined palates.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Can't the Japanese government renegotiate their trade deal with the EU like someone else is doing? But wait... cheap cheese is easier on people's wallets.... OK, can't Ochiai figure out how to produce his cheese any more cheaply? Using Japanese technology and all that...

Different farming methods (i.e., larger, industrial-scale farms) would help bring down the cost of milk, but it's also partly a matter of land. Feed for cows needs to be grown somewhere. Dairies themselves take up space, too. That means Japanese producers will always be at a disadvantage in competing against low-cost, barrier-free imports.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Sorry, but Im Japanese and euro cheese and wine is much better

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Chile and aussie too

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Free(er) trade in food can only help the Japanese public in general. And a lot of folks might find that they like a good stinky cheese. But they'll never know as long as imports are blocked by the government.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

The large cheesemakers produce bland rubbish. But all Japanese cheese is not like that. There are some artisanal cheesemakers who are making excellent products. A good friend of mine in Okinawa is making highly original cheeses with local herbs and spices. Really good. Look for the "Cheese Guy" on Facebook.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And a lot of folks might find that they like a good stinky cheese.

Almost every Japanese person I know enjoys good cheese, be it a salty rock or smelly-sock-type. The problem is the price; your average housewife can't afford 1000 yen for a small lump of brie, stilton, helmetdale or orgonzola.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

So there you have it, we are all have to pay more for cheese to protect someone who "cannot keep up with the demand" but "employs just a handful of staff".

How many people does the Japanese auto industry employ again?

5 ( +5 / -0 )

So Japanese are free to copy without rights Brie and Camembert to make tasteless cheese with French flags on them. Shame on them !

You will NEVER be able to copy those cheese since flavor comes from the "terroir", what eats the cows so locally. Call it something else !

Too bad government has been abusing the system for self-interest, i.e. protecting their voters's business thanks to false statements for propaganda.

We get Japanese cars so accept our cheese which is even a need for better health !

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Will it also mean reasonably priced butter from the EU, as well? Or, just any butter at all?

It's tiring seeing the butter shelves at the supa filled with 20 kinds of margarine, and the couple of spaces assigned to butter being empty.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Japan does not need to make cheese - it can do something else with the resources - why bother when someone else can do it cheaper and better.

Japanese cheese is as worst as English cheese but the latter never got thx Allah a marketshare on the wahalla of global cheesemaking, continental Europe.

Not sure what you are trying to say Netgrump due to typos, but I think you are having a go at British cheese making.

There are 750 varieties of British cheese and I doubt you have tried many of them. However, the selection is far more varied than in most other European countries.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Ochiai makes five kinds of cheese, including brie and a variety similar to comte.

Three more than the usual choice of Japanese cheese, which is two ie "cheese" and "camembert".

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Minelli7, “cheap imported food in Japan is non existent. They make it so the Japanese equivalent is always cheaper.”

Do the hustle, “Japan imports 70% if its food, but imported produce is much cheaper than Japanese produce.”

How can these both be correct?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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