Fukushima farm products still have a negative image

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NIHONMATSU, Fukushima Prefecture – Rice farmer Toshio Watanabe felt very embarrassed when he saw the estimated selling price of rice to be harvested in 2022.

Agricultural products in Fukushima prefecture faced consumer withdrawal and order cancellations following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

“People bargain hard for rice from Fukushima prefecture, which they only buy at lower prices than products from other prefectures, even for the same quality and taste,” said Watanabe, who grows in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture.

“We could have fought a good battle if it hadn’t been for the nuclear disaster. As things stand, however, we have become the only losers.

More than 11 years later, farmers like Watanabe and the public sector in this northeastern prefecture continue to struggle with the lingering repercussions of the effects of negative publicity due to radiation fears.

FUKUSHIMA RICE THE “ONLY LOSER”

A document distributed by a local agricultural association in late February said this year’s rice crop would likely sell for only 9,500 yen ($77) per 60 kilograms, falling below 10,000 yen for the second consecutive year. .

A rice farmer is at risk of running a deficit when the net selling price is less than 10,000 yen per 60 kg, given the current production cost of nearly 9,000 yen per 60 kg.

Farmers will likely have to endure hardship this year as they did in 2021, when rice prices fell sharply due to general oversupply and weak demand in the foodservice industry.

Rice harvested in Fukushima prefecture disappeared from many supermarket shelves after the nuclear disaster, with consumers avoiding Fukushima labels for fear of radiation.

More than 11 years later, rice grown in the prefecture has seen its market quotations still stuck in the lower ranges, with trading prices hovering below the national average.

Rice of the Koshihikari variety from the Nakadori region (central strip) of Fukushima prefecture, which contains Nihonmatsu, was trading at 11,047 yen per 60 kg, down 17% year on year, according to a preliminary report on the “direct commercial prices” of rice harvested in 2021, which the Ministry of Agriculture published in February.

The average price of all brands in all regions of Japan was 12,944 yen per 60 kg, down only 11% from the previous year. This means that the gap has only widened.

CONSUMERS SHOWING MORE UNDERSTANDING

In addition to rice, peaches, grapes and other agricultural products, which face fierce competition from competitors grown in other prefectures, have also in recent years seen their selling prices on the market to remain stuck at nearly 10% below the national average.

“Dealers from other prefectures sometimes refuse to take products from Fukushima Prefecture when there are too many products from a good harvest,” said the chairman of a wholesaler based in the prefectural capital of Fukushima who sold fruits and vegetables from the prefecture for more than 50 years.

“Negative publicity effects remain deeply rooted overseas,” said Koji Furuyama, a 46-year-old farmer who grows peaches and apples in the prefectural capital.

Furuyama aggressively ventured into overseas markets. In 2017, for example, he exported peaches to a department store in Thailand.

Following the nuclear disaster, however, food products from Fukushima Prefecture were subject to embargoes and other import restrictions by 55 countries and regions around the world, 14 of which continue to impose restrictions. one way or another.

The central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the paralyzed Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, have decided to discharge contaminated treated water from the plant into the ocean.

The water release, which will begin as early as spring next year, may have additional negative publicity effects, Furuyama said.

By comparison, the effects of negative public image are rarely noticeable nowadays in food products where product differentiation is possible, for example by supplying the products in large quantities when there are few shipments of competing products from other prefectures.

Figures from the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market show that Fukushima Prefecture’s vegetable prices, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, have been higher than the national average in recent years.

Consumers come to show more understanding of food products from the prefecture.

In a survey conducted by the Consumer Affairs Agency in February 2022, only 6.5% of respondents said they were hesitant to buy food products from Fukushima prefecture for fear of radiation. The percentage is the lowest on record and is below 10% for the second consecutive year.

SALES PROMOTION CAMPAIGN ALONE “NOT ENOUGH”

The Fukushima prefectural government has so far allocated large post-disaster reconstruction budgets to campaigns against negative publicity and sales promotion.

A centerpiece of recent years, among others, is a sales promotion program on major online marketplaces operated by Amazon.com Inc., Rakuten Group Inc. and Yahoo Japan Corp. Dentsu East Japan Inc., an advertising agency, was commissioned to operate the project.

In fiscal 2020, the program generated proceeds of approximately 3.4 billion yen, a record since the project began in fiscal 2017, although over 500 million yen was spent to subsidize the initial costs of market vendors and issue discount coupons worth 10 to 30 percent.

In fiscal 2021, the prefectural government project achieved sales of more than 2.6 billion yen from a consignment budget of only 360 million yen.

It’s not bad from a profitability point of view. However, this is tempered by the fact that marketing efforts that rely on coupons do not necessarily help to empower production areas, and no information is provided to sellers that would allow them to analyze what type of customers have purchased. what products.

“This program is based on the availability of post-disaster reconstruction budgets,” said an official in charge of the project. “It’s definitely not sustainable.”

“Products from Fukushima Prefecture stuck in low price ranges are expected to venture into new markets other than existing ones, but such an endeavor can rarely be achieved through the public relations efforts of the public sector and an agency. advertising alone,” said Ryota Koyama, a professor of agricultural economics at Fukushima University.

He added, “More money should be spent in production areas to support efforts to improve races and gear.”

(This article was written by Tetsuya Kasai and Keiji Iijima.)


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