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Demand for precooked rice packs rises in Japan amid pandemic

Sales of precooked rice packs have been upbeat amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Consumers have increasingly stockpiled such packaged rice in recent years as awareness of disaster preparedness has grown. This trend has increased further during the pandemic as more people hoard precooked rice. While the overall consumption of rice has been on the decline in Japan, manufacturers of precooked rice have diversified their product lines to cater to health-conscious people and meet other consumer needs. Such high-quality instant food products made in Japan have also gradually become popular overseas.

■ Handy products

At the Inageya Nerima Kamishakujii Minami supermarket in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, packs of precooked rice of various brands, such as Koshihikari and Akitakomachi, are lined up on the shelves. Packaged products, each of which contains about 200 grams of rice, are sold for ¥100 to ¥150, while packs come in various sizes.

Two major selling points of these products are that their best-before dates are relatively long, ranging from 10 months to a year, and they can be consumed simply by heating in a microwave for about two minutes.

“We’ve stocked up more [packs of precooked rice] amid the coronavirus pandemic,” said a homemaker in her 40s. “It’s very useful when I forget to cook rice.”

Supermarket chain operator Inageya Co. saw its overall sales of precooked rice packs increase by 12.3% in 2020 from the previous year.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, Japan’s production volume of such rice packs in 2020 totaled 224,430 tons, up 6.7% from the previous year. The figure was nearly double the volume produced 10 years ago.

Last year, demand for precooked rice packs grew as people refrained from going out and hoarded such products amid the pandemic.

■ Health-conscious trend

Packs of precooked rice have become a popular item to stockpile, especially among the elderly and students living alone, since people have become more aware of the importance of being prepared for a disaster in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

In recent years, products containing brown rice and barley have become popular owing to a health-conscious boom, and some featuring no additives have also hit supermarket shelves.

As rice farmers have increasingly sought to commercialize their brands of rice, the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations (Zen-Noh) has made full-fledged entry into the packaged precooked rice business a priority. A Zen-Noh subsidiary plans to build a new plant to raise the annual production capacity of such products to about 16 million servings in fiscal 2022, a fourfold increase from the current level.

■ Exports growing

Exports of precooked rice packs have also increased. According to the agriculture ministry, the export volume rose to 1,203 tons in 2020, up 18.2% from the previous year. Over the past three years, the figure saw a 1.8-fold increase.

Wooke Co., a subsidiary in Toyama Prefecture of major rice wholesaler Shinmei Holdings Ltd., exports such precooked rice products mainly to Hong Kong and mainland China. The company’s export volume reached 650,000 servings in fiscal 2020, a 50% increase from the previous fiscal year. Wooke says many of the products are given as gifts and online orders have grown.

On the other hand, the overall year-on-year demand for rice produced in the 2019 season, which ran from July 2019 through June 2020, dropped by 200,000 tons in volume due to a sharp decline in demand from eating establishments.

“Demand for packs of precooked rice has been on the rise both in Japan and abroad,” a senior agriculture ministry official said. “We hope it will become a catalyst for expanding rice consumption.”

Published : May 10, 2021

By : The Japan News/ANN