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Japan looks to US for heart healthy barley

Japan is becoming increasingly keen on U.S. food barley varieties containing high levels of the dietary fibre beta-glucen.

The U.S. Grain Council (USGC) reports on a visit to North Dakota and Idaho this month by a Japanese delegation to discuss the future growth potential in the niche market.

Scientific research has revealed varieties of US barley have heart healthy properties. They reduce cholesterol, reduce the glycemic index and lower the risk of heart disease.

This makes US barley attractive to Japanese food producers who use it to make cereal products and snack bars.

A team of Japanese food barley end-users including officials from Japanese companies and local bakery and confectionary makers likely to utilize beta-glucan barley in their products were among the delegation.

They talked with U.S. barley producers and processors who are planning to expand production and other new market players expressing an interest in Japanese markets.

The USGC reports: “This trade team saw the willingness of producers and processors to provide high beta-glucan barley,” said Tommy Hamamoto, USGC director in Japan, who accompanied the team. “The team met more market players in food barley than in previous trips and they are more serious about food barley market growth in Japan, indicating the potential to achieve a 100,000 metric ton (4.59 million bushels) market.”
Japanese barley trade with the United States has transformed substantially over time. Japan has not imported barley for feed from the United States for the last three years due to shifts in the U.S. barley industry from open market trade to contract barley production, particularly for malting barley.
However, U.S. barley growers now have a dominant supplier role for high beta-glucan food barley, thanks to a decade of work by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), the U.S. barley industry and Japanese partner organizations.

The Council has partnered with Zenbakruen (All Japan Barley Industry Association), the Council of Japan Barley Foods Promotion and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to promote the heart health benefits of barley with food snack companies and industry associations through educational seminars, trade teams and reverse missions. Based on these continued efforts, the industry now also independently promotes these products in the Japanese market through cooking programs and demonstrations, food shows and other market promotions.
Trade teams like the one in August are an important part of this market development work, says the USGC.

Team members visited barley food processors, research facilities and seed breeders to obtain information on newly developed food barley (mainly beta-glucan barley) varieties and those under development. Additional meetings with producers and shippers were also optimistic about supplying food barley to Japan.
“Direct communications between buyers and sellers through these trade teams provides the mutual understanding and trust that is key to market promotion,” Hamamoto said. “Without mutual trust, producing high beta-glucan barley under contracts would fall into a chicken-and-egg situation where both sides are not willing to undertake the risk of pursuing this niche market.”