CBD, Hemp Fiber, Seeds and Oil: Meros – USDA report series on Japan’s market for hemp-derived products released

Anyone exploring the shops and cafes of Japan’s major cities in the past two years has certainly noticed the explosion of CBD products on retail shelves, online shops and in a growing number of cafes. CBD consumer products range from tinctures and gummies to cosmetics and even pet products, some imported and some manufactured in Japan using CBD raw materials primarily from the U.S., China and the EU.

While CBD products are a major current trend, interest in the Japanese market for a variety of hemp-derived products has grown dramatically in the past few years.Hemp seed and hemp seed oil appear poised for growth in the Japanese health food sector; longer term, there may be opportunities for hemp fiber in construction, insulation and plastic.

Meros recently teamed up with the U.S. Embassy Japan to develop a series of reports on the Japanese market and import regulations for hemp-derived products, to serve as a resource for U.S. exporters planning their business development in Japan.  The 2018 U.S. Farm bill  legalized the production of industrial hemp in the U.S., defined any cannabis plant or derivative thereof, that contains not more than 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) on a dry-weight basis. This authorization of production in the U.S. has brought optimism that a new commodity crop can be developed in the U.S., with a wide range of uses in industrial, feed and wellness markets and potential for export to global markets.

While Japan has a long history of hemp cultivation, today Japan’s domestic hemp use is mainly limited to fiber for traditional uses linked to the Shinto religion, such as shimenawa ropes decorating shrines or the belts of top ranked sumo champions. To grow cannabis in Japan, a cultivation license is necessary and as of 2019 there were only 35 licensed cannabis cultivators, primarily in Tochigi Prefecture, and a total of 9 hectares under cultivation. There is little expectation that this number will increase in the near term.

And yet industrial hemp has a wide potential range of uses in Japan from seeds for human and animal consumption, fiber for use in apparel, building insulation, plastics and construction materials to hemp extracts such as CBD and other cannabinoids in cosmetics and wellness products.  It is expected that these raw materials will need to be imported to Japan; this makes it essential for potential hemp product suppliers to have a deep un

Under Japan’s legal regulatory framework, the Cannabis Control Act bans importation of “cannabis”. The Act defines ‘cannabis’ as “the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa L.) and its products. However, mature cannabis stalks and products made from stalks (excluding resin, which is illegal), as well as cannabis seeds and products made from the seeds are excluded from this legal definition of “cannabis”. Japan has a zero-tolerance level for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in any product.

The Cannabis Control Act does not explicitly mention THC, however, in practice, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) interprets the presence of THC in a product to mean that parts of the cannabis plant other than mature stalks or seeds were used.Unacceptable parts include flowers, buds, leaves, immature stalks, or roots.

Exporting hemp products to Japan, therefore, requires various documentation and administrative steps in order to comply with the import regulations for legal hemp products.

In this new series of reports, Meros not only looks at the current market dynamics of each product category, but also examples of the import flow and documentation required for hemp fiber, hemp seed, hemp seed oil, CBD and hemp extract products.

Further regulatory changes are expected Japan’s hemp product market in the coming years, so success as a supplier to Japan’s hemp product markets will require on-going observation of the changing dynamics of each market and potential changes in regulation. As always, strong relationships with importers and partners in Japan will be critical for suppliers to navigate these dynamic markets.

The series of reports can be found at the following links:

The Japanese Market for Hemp Fiber

The Japanese Market for Hemp Seed and Hemp Seed Oil Products

The Japanese Market for CBD and Hemp Extracts

Happy New Year from Meros! (and a quick update on where we are!)

Happy 2021 to all our friends, clients and associates!

The corona pandemic this past year has forced us to pivot, to improvise, to adapt …but after an initial scramble to get all our online tools in place, we believe this year has been opportunity to try new approaches, to innovate and to ultimately become a stronger company than ever.

2020 only demonstrated more clearly than ever the need for strong, flexible and sustainable food and ag supply chains. Impactful investments in food and agri technologies and partnerships with smart and innovative start-ups are more essential than ever for our clients and partners.

Although we have not been able to travel as much as we used to, Meros continues to provide strong support for our clients and partners by fully utilizing the domestic and overseas networks we have developed over the years.

We hope all our clients and network have also been able to find opportunities in the chaos and we look forward to helping you all as you prepare to move forward.

We look forward to working with you again in this upcoming Year of the Cow!

Note: Team Meros’ response to the Dec 2020 State of Emergency (SOE) in Japan

Meros is making every effort to prevent the spread of infection within our global team and our local communities.  We encourage remote work for all employees and emphasize good ventilation and disinfection in our offices.  In Tokyo we expect all of our team to work remotely at least three days a week and encourage fully remote when possible.

Our company phones are still open, but email will be the fastest and most reliable way to contact us. We look forward to talking to you online!

EU Agricultural Mission to Japan highlights interest in consumer demographics, organic markets and retail innovation

This week Meros’ Managing Director Chisa Ogura presented on Japanese consumer food trends to delegates of the High Level EU Agricultural Mission to Japan led by EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. There were over 70 delegates, including agricultural industry reps, SMEs and farmers from throughout the EU, all looking to understand how the new EU-Japan EPA can benefit food and agricultural trade between the EU and Japan.

It was a full house and we got great questions from the delegates on organic trends (especially in wine and beef), the impact of demographic changes and the notoriously fast turnover in new retail products.

Japanese consumers now spend more on bread than rice, more on meat than seafood and more on wine than sake, with cheese and yogurt consumption growing rapidly. This brings many potential opportunities for EU food and agriculture to develop new business in Japan.

Nevertheless, to successfully build a business in Japan, careful understanding of the characteristics of the Japan market is of course critical. For example, one area of interest to delegates was the fact that while countries like Denmark (227€ annual per capita spending), Germany (116€ per capita) and France (101€ per cap) have booming organic markets, consumer interest in organic products has been slow to catch on in Japan (only 8€ per capita).

The price premium for organic is relatively small in Japan, compared to some of its Asian neighbors, where organic products can command an extremely high price premium. Japanese consumers also tend to be convinced that domestic conventionally grown agricultural products are already safe and healthy and are less willing to pay a premium for organic certified products. In addition, organic agriculture is difficult in wet and humid Japan and this has resulted in fewer Japanese companies producing, promoting and educating on organic practices. While EU organic products are welcome in Japan, more of the burden for promotion and consumer education will fall on the EU side.

Other consumer trends that Meros highlighted included the Japanese consumer expectation for constant relaunches and limited editions of retail food and beverage products, which contrasts with many EU exporters’ focus on classic and authenticity, rather than innovation.  Not only is this seasonal packaging an issue, but urban Japanese consumers tend to bring their groceries home by hand or in a bicycle basket, to a kitchen with extremely limited storage space. Responsiveness to these Japanese consumer lifestyle realities can greatly improve EU exporters’ marketing and promotion strategies.