Coming to the end of my two month’s internship with Label bank and while preparing my final report, I get to realize how far I went with my knowledge. Considering my origins (North Africa) and the cultural differences between the two continents in the one hand and the two countries (Tunisia and Japan) in the other hand, The Japanese food market was a mind twister for me. The food categories and purposes are typically traditional designated generally for a local consumption. Food products that are destined for trade operations are determined depending on the destination and should obey to the local sanitary standards and regulations not only in Japan but in the targeted country which makes it a little complicated since the Japanese regulatory system is different and very detailed.
In fact in Japan the consumer affair agency CAA was established to protect and enhance consumer benefits and covers jurisdictions related to labeling regulations, quality surveillance and trade activities. The difference between Japan and other countries’ standards and regulations starts from the definition of food itself and the categorization of processed food. For example the Ministry of Health, Labor and welfare devises food into 2 groups: Food with health claims which means either foods with nutrient function claims or food for specified health uses and Food for special dietary uses which is basically designated for pregnant women, infants and elderly. The label should include the energy value and nutrients of the product in accordance with the Nutrition Labeling Standards and without any misleading information.
The claims are different from a country to another; for example in some countries the Reduction of disease risk claim is prohibited. Also the claim’s designation may confuse some producers during the process of trade with foreign countries. But the problem now in Japan is the ageing population and the fall of birth rate which leads to the lack in local consumers. The government is trying to open up to the international market and target bigger foreign communities as to guarantee the safety of the country’s economy. Japanese products are being featured now in many foreign markets even in Europe and getting the attention of gastronomy lovers or young people who are fascinated by the Japanese culture, which opens up another tourism perspective for Japan.
But judging from the location of Japan it is more likely that one of the biggest communities in the world is just close by in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, southern Philippines and Thailand, Myanmar etc.; and 62% of the Muslim community in the world lives in Asia/Pacific. Here we are talking about a potential market opportunity that can make Japan start competing with China very soon.
Now entering the Muslim market has its severe and strict requirements which are resumed in two words ‘Halal Certification’. This process is considered new to the Japanese industry judging from the absence of the Halal claim on Japanese products even though some products are basically halal but they don’t bother using Halal as a claim on the label or applying for the Halal certification. This is not a form of ignorance towards the Muslim’s community in Japan but it is more than a culture or a habit. As the Japanese products are now entering slowly and carefully the Halal market, also the Halal certification organisms are getting recognized by well known Halal validation systems like the JAKIM which is very famous and very trusted in most of the Halal markets around the world. Starting from 2017, JAKIM has already recognized 6 Japanese organization and agreed to their credibility in issuing Halal certificates and this is how Japanese companies are stepping up in foreign Muslim countries and starting to export their products abroad. A very important detail that any Japanese company willing to enter this market, is to fix the target and study its needs. For example it is useless to export a product to a country which is the first in the world in producing that same product. The company or more precisely the product innovation team should focus on the needs, the traditional tastes and flavors, food habits and the purchasing power/capacity of a middle class employee of that target country. This way a Halal certified Japanese product which has been well customized will be able to compete with the local products.
Obtaining the Halal certificate for a product is not that easy and neither impossible. Even though the requirements are very simple and logic, the transition is quiet hard sometimes for the industry in the process of switching to Halal. It is a must to not use any non Halal products (pork, meat derived from animals that has not been slaughtered in the Islamic way, blood, corpses, etc. Or anything derived from them like gelatin). Not only in the product but it is also forbidden to have any residue in the industry itself as it may cause cross contamination.
The security and quality control study has established analytical methods and cleaning processes that will end any industry’s nightmare and get the product certified as Halal.
Today, our mission is to assist their clients through their journey and find solutions and back up plans to any possible issue or unexpected events. Once the objective is successfully attended, Label bank keeps always track of the situation and suggests innovative ideas and special assistance to its clients to grow more the business.
I am very grateful to everyone in the food company I met and to my colleagues at Label bank who shared a precious time with me and made me the successful intern that I am today.