Pork prices in the nation have been gradually rising because more and more pigs are infected with porcine epidemic diarrhoea (PED) at home and abroad.
Wholesale prices of pork this month are more than 20 per cent higher than those a year ago. The impact of the price hikes is spreading among food makers and restaurant businesses.
According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, PED infections had been found at 677 farms in Hokkaido and 37 other prefectures as of Wednesday, and about 200,000 pigs were reported to have died.
The number of dead pigs was much higher than the figure as of April 24, when about 83,000 had been reported dead in Hokkaido and 32 other prefectures.
The average wholesale price of pork as of Friday in the Tokyo and Osaka markets was ¥607 (S$7.50) per kilogram. The price has been on the rise since the start of this year.
A supermarket chain that operates four stores in Tokyo has started placing premium quality pork on its shelves. To minimise purchase prices, the supermarket chain buys whole pigs directly from pig-breeding farmers. In past years, purchase prices were between ¥650 and ¥700 per kilogram, but now the price has risen to nearly ¥900.
But an official responsible for packed meat at the supermarket chain said: "Though we worry that customers might shun our stores [due to higher pork prices], purchasing conditions are severe. Corporate efforts alone cannot absorb [rising costs]."
Overall, the supermarket chain has raised pork prices by about 10 per cent.
Among food makers, Nippon Meat Packers Inc. and Itoham Foods Inc. will raise the prices of their products, such as ham and sausages, by 10 per cent on average from July 1. Prima Meat Packers Ltd. will also raise its prices soon.
The impact is also spreading to restaurant chain operators.
Ootoya Holdings Co., which operates the Ootoya Gohan Dokoro chain of restaurants, raised prices for four menu sets that contain pork, including Rosu (pork loin) Katsu Teishoku, by ¥30 or ¥31 starting in late April.
An official at the company sought consumers' understanding, saying, "Corporate efforts alone can't cover increases in costs."
A chain of curry restaurants located mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area is also considering whether it should raise its prices for curry dishes that include fried pork. But an official at that company said, "Because we recently raised prices due to the consumption tax hike, we want to avoid another price increase."
The number of domestic pig shipments exceeds about 1.5 million in peak months of the year. Though PED infections have been increasing, many in the industry had predicted that the impact would not be so serious as to affect pork prices.
But incidence of PED infection has also been increasing in other countries, especially in the United States, with sources reporting that millions of pigs died in the past year.
An increasing number of people in the industry predict imports of pork will decrease, and that as a result pork availability in Japan will fall and prices will rise. Industry sources said pork prices tend to rise in summer, when opportunities to hold barbecue parties increase. A source in the livestock industry said, "Unless the worldwide epidemic is stopped, the price hikes will accelerate."
Usually, it takes six months from birth for pigs to be ready for shipment. If domestic shipments of pigs continue to fall, pork prices may continue to be high through and after autumn.