Meros Welcomes Newest Team Member Hiroki Seki

We are excited to introduce our newest Meros member, Hiroki Seki. Hiroki joined us a month ago and is already diving deep into the mysteries of seafood trade and distribution in Asia.

Hiroki has a background in public policy and management and previously worked for Ernst and Young (EY)’s consulting division in Tokyo. His recent work focused on research and advising for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) including strategies to support Japanese female entrepreneurs and improve working environments for foreign and immigrant workers in Japan.

“I came to Meros because I was looking for work environment that was international, where I could contribute my English language abilities and interest in policy. This kind of company is very rare in Tokyo and was a great fit for me, “ Hiroki explained recently.

Hiroki is an avid traveler and always willing to face a new challenge. His recent interest is in edible insects after reporting on the recent Insect Experience Day for Meros. So far he has sampled scorpions, cricket chocolate and waterbug cider and is determined to add to this list in his next travels. We are all looking forward to his next reports from the field.

Hiroki holds a Master of Economics from Hitotsubashi University and a Master of Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University Australia. A native Japanese speaker and fluent in English.

Insect Cuisine Takes the Stage in Tokyo

With all the talk in our food and agriculture world of alternative proteins and the potential of insect protein, this month’s Insect Experience Day was not something we could miss. The event was hosted by The Finnish Institute in Japan and Nishiogi Place to highlight the intersection of science, art and food and featured the tasting and experiencing of… bugs. On display were a great mixture of locally produced and imported snacks and drinks that all had some variety of insect as a key ingredient. The event also featured panels and discussions highlighting the nutritional benefits of different insects for humans.

The value of the global edible insect market is skyrocketing and is expected to reach at least $1.3 billion by 2025. While the vast majority of this insect protein production is for the animal feed market, insect protein for human foods has garnered some buzz as a niche eco-friendly ingredient in products sold in North America, EU, South America and other countries. In Japan, however, the trend is still at an early stage.

Some of the showcased products included locally produced Cricket rice cracker snacks made from Japanese brown rice and cricket-based ingredients from Canada. Another local product was Tagame Cider – a type of soda with lethocerus (giant water bug) extract that contributed to the fruity taste of the beverage.

While insects are a popular and traditional snack in many parts of Asia and have a tradition in Japan as well,  insect products are rarely found at modern Japanese retailers. Insect Experience Day was a step towards increasing consumers’ awareness of insects as a food ingredient and encouraging curiosity about these high-protein, nutritionally-rich creatures that appeared to horrify some visitors and be palatable to others.

Other mouthwatering buggy products included cricket chocolate (delicious, our team reported), Bug Bites (a cricket protein snack from Finland) and locally produced jars of locust hornet larva.

Ever wonder what the most delicious insect to humans might be? According to expert Shoichi Uchiyama, it is the larva of the long-horned beetle, which tastes like fatty tuna. This is not to be confused with the common beetle which is not tasty at all! Can we eat cockroaches? Yes, totally fine if you are ok with the unpleasant smell…  According to Uchiyama, who has written an insect recipe book and runs the website Konchu Ryori Kenkyu (Bug-eating Recipe Studies), the taste of insects changes depending on what they have eaten.

Not your usual pepperoncino pasta: bug cuisine advocate and chef Shoichi Unchiyama demonstrated how insects, such as giant meal worms, can be used as meat substitutes in well-known dishes like spaghetti pepperoncino.

Dr. Aikawa from Japan’s scientific research center RIKEN explained why insects are considered the ideal future protein source: insect production uses fewer resources, less feed and has a lower environmental impact than other protein sources. With protein demand expected to increase 1.4 times by 2050, there is likely to be pressure on meat protein sources – insect protein may be able to help fill this demand. While insect consumption is common in many, if not most, parts of the world, many modern consumers are unwilling to eat bugs. Insect marketers still face a significant hurdle to convince consumers to put bugs on their plate. Nevertheless Insect Experience Day may have succeeded in converting some of visitors to the potential of insect cuisine and insect protein.

Meros – USDA Food Export Guides to Japan Online Now

Meros recently teamed up with the US Embassy Japan’s Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) to develop a series of export guides that detail the regulatory requirements for 24 specific products, from cheese to chocolate, herbal tea to wine. While the aim is to support American SMEs who are interested in exporting food products to Japan, the detailed guides can be of interest to food exporters of all levels of experience.

Exporting to Japan can seem daunting with numerous required forms and official resources not always available in English. In these guides, we take potential exporters step-by-step from pre-embarkation to import clearance and lay out the expected forms and preparations necessary at each stage.

For new food exporters to Japan, common challenges include differences in food additive standards which may mean a product that is allowed for food products in the home country may not always be allowed in Japan.  Japan’s strict, low tolerance standards for agrochemical residues (MRLs) also trips up some potential exporters.  These guides aim to point out some of these common pitfalls in advance, so exporters are better prepared. They are not meant as “do-it-yourself” guides but as a tool to help exporters better navigate the export process together with their Japanese importers and distributors.

We provide examples of required ingredients lists, manufacturing process charts as well as labelling for each type of product – but it is important for exporters to always keep in mind that requirements can change without notice – especially whenever sanitary or phytosanitary risks are involved.  Ultimately, a successful export business to Japan require ongoing vigilance for regulatory changes, as well as strong relationships with importers and partners in Japan.

All guides are available here: Usdajapan.org/dl