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Japanese Market for U.S. Food Barley Grows

Country imports 410,000 bushels in first quarter

Japanese consumers place high importance on the nutritional value of their food. This health awareness combined with a decade of U.S. Grains Council (USGC) promotion is creating a growing niche market for specific varieties of U.S. food barley containing high levels of beta-glucan, a dietary fiber.

High beta-glucan barley has heart-healthy properties that may reduce cholesterol, lower the risk of heart disease and reduce glycemic index, according to U.S. research. These nutritional properties make U.S. varieties of food barley attractive for Japanese food producers who use the grain to produce various food products, including cereal products and snack bars.

To help boost U.S. market share, USGC has partnered with Zenbakruen (All Japan Barley Industry Association), the Japan Food Barley Promotion Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to promote the heart health benefits of barley with food snack companies and industry associations through educational seminars, trade teams and reverse missions. Based on these continued efforts, the industry now also independently promotes these products in the Japanese market.

“The growth in demand for U.S. high beta-glucan barley is the direct result of more than 10 years of USGC work,” says Tommy Hamamoto, USGC director in Japan. “USGC has actively promoted the health benefits of barley as well as contract production with U.S. barley growers. Even though overall volume is at the niche market level, Japan is an important and growing market.”

Japan purchased nearly 1.29 million bushels of U.S. food barley in 2017, up dramatically from 386,000 bushels the year prior and the prior five-year average of 201,000 bushels.

According to the Japan Customs statistics, a total of 410,000 bushels of food barley have been imported from the United States from January to March 2018.

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