Growing appetite for Japanese rice

The short-grained, sticky Japanese rice has become more popular here despite its higher cost, with consumption more than doubling since 2011.

Last year, Singaporeans consumed 1,359 tonnes of rice from Japan, up from 602 tonnes in 2011, figures from state trade promotion arm International Enterprise Singapore show.

Singapore is the second largest importer of Japanese rice in the world after Hong Kong, going by data from the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Japan (MAFFJ).

People here ate eight times as much Japanese rice as the amount exported to China and 26 times that to Malaysia.

Industry players point to increasing affluence, the booming number of Japanese restaurants and the growing number of Japanese expatriates in Singapore as reasons for the increase.

Others said the recent surge in the prices of Thai rice, leading to falling demand here, led to more consumers switching sources.

India, for instance, overtook Thailand as the biggest rice supplier to Singapore for the first time in 2013.

Thailand, famous for its premium grade of Jasmine rice, has been the top source of the staple here since at least 1998.

"When prices of Thai rice went up, some consumers switched to Japanese rice and did not switch back," said Mr Andrew Tan, 35, chairman of the Singapore General Rice Importers Association.

At Meidi-ya supermarket, a 5kg bag of Royal Umbrella Thai rice costs $18.95; and a 2kg bag of Niigata Uonuma rice from Japan costs $21.

However, he also pointed out the fast jump in figures should be taken with a pinch of salt given that they started from a low base.

Singapore consumed a total of 325,860 tonnes of rice last year, with Japanese imports not even making up 1 per cent. Mr Akira Karasawa, MAFFJ's director-general of crop production, said the greater consumption of Japanese rice here could be because there are more Japanese expatriates and restaurants here, as well as the affluence of Singaporeans.

The Japanese ministry has launched the This Is Japan Quality logo, which will be tagged onto all Japanese rice products here. It has a QR code that links to a website with information about the merits of Japanese rice.

Supermarkets are also seeing brisk sales.

At Giant, demand for Japanese rice has grown each year since 2011, with its spokesman reporting "high single-digit percentage growth" year on year.

FairPrice saw 50 per cent growth in demand last year from 2013 for its housebrand FairPrice Japonica Rice.

Consumers like Ms Jane Wong, 36, started buying more Japanese rice last year to make Japanese meals for her four children to take to school because "it is healthier", she said.

However, replacing the Vietnamese rice they eat for their daily meals with Japanese rice is not an option for now. "The price is still too high," she said.

This article was first published on Mar 17, 2015.
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