Monday, January 26, 2009

Direct farmer to consumer stores flourish in Japan

Fresh Produce flourishes as food safety rots is a link passed on by Doug Powell of the Food Safety Network. We see again the golden halo of locally grown produce is a phenomenon that goes beyond borders. Look for both common threads and unique attributes to the local food movement in this story, dateline Japan.

With public trust in food, packaging and labeling crumbling across the nation, consumers are taking a healthy interest in vegetables and other locally made produce.

In Kawasaki, where about 1 million people reside, a local farmers' cooperative opened its own store, Farmers' Market Ceres, in April last year to sell fresh food by direct sales.

At 9:30 a.m. one random weekday, customers started lining up in front of the store. By 9:55 a.m. it had grown to 50 people, just five minutes before opening time.

"Everybody comes here first thing in the morning because there are fresh products here," said a woman who said she was a regular customer.


The vegetables and fruits are not necessarily cheap compared with supermarket prices, but people are apparently buying them because they feel safer eating products made by farmers who aren't afraid to be identified.

According to JA General Research Institute, there are about 5,000 direct-sales stores nationwide. Of them, about 2,000 are run by farmers' cooperatives and 3,000 by third-sector companies and other farmer groups.

The stores rake in ¥80 million to ¥100 million a year on average, it said.

The larger of the stores first started opening outlets in the late 1970s, when pollution surfaced as a problem nationwide. The trend quickly spread in the 1990s after the bubble economy collapsed.

"Many of the consumers started having doubts about mass production and the mass retail system" at that time, said Masayuki Yamamoto, a researcher at the JA General Research Institute.

The stores also caused farmers to change their way of thinking. Many stores installed computer systems that allowed them to send daily sales data to each of the farmers so they could see what consumers were buying.

"I started thinking more seriously about how I can sell my products," said a farmer who supplies the Kawasaki store.

Selling products at direct-sales stores allows farmers to decide their own prices. This forces them to compete with supermarkets on price as well as quality and variety, such as by supplying vegetables not sold in regular stores.

TK: Increasing sophistication among growers, yes, but also the recognition that the halo could be toppled with an unfortunate incident or two. The story concludes:

But there are other hurdles that need to be overcome.

An official at the Kawasaki store said that agricultural knowledge varies among the farmers and that it needs to keep an eye on what kind of chemicals they are using to ensure the products they are selling are safe.

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