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Japanese demand for U.S. food barley steadily increases

Japan imports of food barley between January and October 2019 up 29% year over year.

Highly health-conscious Japanese consumers continue to recognize the nutritional benefits of high-beta glucan barley, thanks to more than a decade of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) working with the Japanese food industry.

Japan imported nearly 30,500 metric tons (1.4 million bu.) of food barley between January and October 2019, up 29% year over year. High beta-glucan barley, produced under contract specifically for the Japanese market, is a value-added market for U.S. barley farmers.

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“According to the industry, the United States is regarded as a stable and reliable supplier of high beta-glucan barley,” said USGC program and administrative director Michiyo Hoshizawa, who directs food promotion programs in Japan. “This relationship was built through decades of cooperation between the council and the Japanese industry and supported by continuous funding from the council’s membership and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program.”

Health awareness in Japan has created a small but growing niche market for specific varieties of U.S. food barley containing high levels of beta-glucan, a dietary fiber, USGC explained. As Japanese consumers increasingly place higher value on the nutritional profile of their food, the council has partnered with industry leaders like the Japanese Council for Food Barley Promotion.

High beta-glucan barley has heart-healthy properties that may reduce cholesterol, lower the risk of heart disease and reduce glycemic index, according to U.S. research. These nutritional properties make U.S. varieties of food barley attractive for Japanese food producers, who use the grain to create cereals, snack bars and other products.

The increased demand for these varieties is spurring increased imports and development of new varieties of high beta-glucan barley by Japanese barley breeders.

To continue capturing market share, USGC regularly facilitates direct conversations between U.S. barley farmers and Japanese end users and participates in industry events like the Food Barley Symposium, which was held on Nov. 30, 2019, and is organized by the Japanese Council for Food Barley Promotion. USGC helped plan the event as a member of the group’s public relations committee.

“The council has promoted high beta-glucan barley in Japan for more than 10 years and has seen increasing interest and sales over that time,” Hoshizawa said. “Besides gaining more knowledge on the health benefits of high beta-glucan barley, participating in the event helps foster a closer relationship between the council and the Japanese food barley industry.”

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