5-day mission brings a taste of Wales to Japan

By Julian Ryall for BCCJ ACUMEN

Five food and drink firms brought a taste of Wales to Japan in a trade delegation recently. Some were looking to get their foot in the door with local partners, while others sought to raise the profile of high-end products already available to Japanese consumers.

Organised by the Welsh Government as part of its Food and Drink Wales trade development scheme, the five-day visit was the first of its kind, and was timed to coincide neatly with the upcoming Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019.

Scouting the field

The government and exporters are hoping to tap into interest in Welsh products among Japanese importers and consumers.

“We decided about one year ago that we needed to go to Japan, because the close links that exist between Wales and Japan screamed out to me that we needed to be here,” said Mark Hughes, export senior manager for Food and Drink Wales, the industry board of the Welsh Government.

“With the Rugby World Cup coming, followed by the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, there is no better time to bring our products here,” he added. “And the response that we have received from the Japanese firms that we have met with tells me that it was absolutely the right decision”.

Ticket to play

The five participating firms delivered presentations to potential Japanese partners at the British Embassy. The link to the RWC was high­lighted at the outset thanks to a video that under­lined Welsh confidence coming into the tournament, declaring, “This is our game”.

“I have two parallel aims for coming on this trade delegation,” admitted Steve Rees, founder and director of the Gower Brewery in South Wales. “I’m here to find a distributor for this market, because I think there is huge potential for us here, but also to scout out ahead of the World Cup”.

Set up in November 2011, the firm has expanded steadily and its products are stocked by Tesco super­markets across much of the UK. Gower Gold may be the best-selling brew, but the firm has a selection of 12 beers, including Shipwreck Ale.

Fortune falls

James Wright, managing director of the Aber Falls Distillery, was also looking to tap into the growing thirst for premium drinks in Japan and was confident that the firm’s line-up of craft gins and liqueurs—soon to be complemented by Welsh whisky—will find a home in this market.

“We have only been open for 16 months, but I already have a very clear international strategy—especially when we launch our whisky—for what I want to achieve in the next 12 years and beyond”.

Wright was in Japan to demonstrate the strengths and quality of the brand, as well as to culti­vate contacts in a nation that is known for its love of whisky. The visit had already paid off, he said, as a meeting with Japanese drinks giant Suntory had gone very well, and further talks were scheduled to determine how best the two firms could collabo­rate in the future.

Japanese firms are interested in the Aber Falls backstory. It was the first whisky distillery to open in North Wales in a century, uses water taken from the waterfalls that are in the firm’s name and will be releasing its first aged whisky in 2021.

Preserving market

In contrast to the newcomers, Carol Jones is a veteran of three visits, and products from Welsh Lady Preserves, the firm where she is sales and marketing manager, have been available in high-end supermarkets and department stores for some years. This visit enabled her to meet with existing partners and seek out potential new routes to market for an award-winning range of preserves, sauces and condiments.

“Welsh Lady products were first brought here in 1979, and were in the Takashimaya department store,” Jones explained. “Whenever we do events back home, such as the Royal Welsh Show, it’s always good to be able to say that these items are on the shelves of shops in Japan.

She was particularly interested in using the visit to explore collaborations, such as providing the individual glass jars of jams and sauces.

Welsh Lady curds and marmalades have been extremely popular—particularly the whisky marma­lade, which, she said, had been devised with one eye on the Japanese market. Other items have required some explanation. Mint sauce has yet to catch on in Japan, she admitted, although everyone who had tried the horseradish sauce had been pleasantly surprised.

Lovely lamb

Mint sauce goes hand in hand with one of Wales’ best exports—lamb—and Deanna Leven of Meat Promotion Wales emphasised the quality and safety of both lamb and beef raised on the nation’s hills.

“The quality of our lamb and beef is a result of the good farming practices that are in place,” she said. “We also want to demonstrate, while we are here, that lamb is a very versatile product that has a mild flavour and is really suited to any cuisine around the world, including Japan.

“The trick is getting people to taste the product. We are using this trip to do that, and I can safely say that the reactions we have been getting are very positive”.

Custom Media publishes BCCJ ACUMEN for the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.


©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I hate to burst the bubble, but there is not all that much chance of expansion here. The products being offered by Wales are also available (under different brands of course) from a number of suppliers at equal or greater quality, in much higher quantities, and at much more competitive prices. Aberdeen Angus beef, as well as Japan's own Wagyu Beef both top Welsh beef in terms of quality and availability, and are equal or lower in price. New Zealand lamb is vastly more available, and at significantly lower prices on average without compromising quality. Welsh gins, vodkas and whiskeys are, at best, a novelty, and barely able to make a dent in a fiercely competitive alcohol market. As for the jams... I'm afraid they won't take off well in Japan due to the Japanese having a more delicate sense of taste. Welsh jam is quite a lot sweeter than many Japanese would be comfortable with, so they're more likely to stick with domestic products that are already suited to their tastes.

and I can safely say that the reactions we have been getting are very positive”.

Are they really positive, or are you just being fooled by Japan's world-famous politeness? It can be very difficult to discern the difference without accumulating years of first-hand experience.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Another British Chamber of commerce ad thinly veiled as an article (that's 2 just today alone).

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

Why no mention of laverbread?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Welsh lamb but I've ever tasted Welsh beef. Too small quantities to make much import to Japan especially competing with the New Zealand.

Cheeses would be a good one. Some very nice Welsh cheeses. Never tried the beers. Crempogs, oatcakes, bara ceirch.

My Nana (grandmother) was Welsh so I ate quite a few Welsh dishes and especially a variety of cakes and pies.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Shipwreck Ale

Is that good? How much would I have to pay for a swig of that?

Welsh whiskey

I have never tasted that either. Is it any better than Scotch whiskey?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Serrano, Scotch is "whisky," Irish and American is "whiskey!"

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Welsh lamb is the best. I buy those Welsh Lady products, the lime and raspberry curds are delicious.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Welsh lamb is excellent especially a roasted leg, but how many Japanese have an oven they can roast a leg of lamb in? It will be hard to sell because Japanese think lamb and mutton are the same and have a bad smell. Lamb is not the same as mutton. Mint sauce is not really much use without the lamb to put it on.

There are also excellent Welsh cheeses, some of which I have seen in a gaijin supermarket in Hiroo being sold as English cheese. I have never seen my favourite, perl wen. However, persuading Japanese that Welsh cheese is on a par with French cheeses is an uphill battle. Actually, perl wen is better than any brie I have eaten.

Fox Sora Winters, Welsh jam is far better, tastier and less sweet than Japanese jam. which is oversweet and flavourless apart from the taste of sugar. I never buy it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

There are many smaller ovens available these days. I have one for roasts, baking, breads, pies, lamb shanks, Amazon is a good place to look. I paid ¥8,000 for one.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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