29 April 2021

The Japanese have changed their eating habits during the pandemic

The food sector and the structure of consumer spending, among others, are being affected by the pandemic. As a result of successive lockdowns, catering establishments have found themselves in financial difficulties and consumers are cooking at home more often and making larger food purchases for their households. After a year of battling the coronavirus, it can be said that the Japanese have become more aware of healthier foods and are more likely to choose products that contain natural ingredients, minimal food additives and sweeteners, and ensure health, dietary and functional needs.

The structure of food imports is also changing. According to trade statistics published in June 2020[1], the volume of meat imports in the first half of the year was 1.04 million tons in Japan, the highest since 1988, when statistics became available. Because of the pandemic there is an increasing demand for a certain type of imported products – raw materials for frozen foods and materials that serve as the basis for processed food and ready-to-eat meals. Competitive prices are vital for importers. The Japanese are opening up to products from abroad, as evidenced by the growing number of countries that have signed key trade agreements with Japan.

Total imports of beef, pork and chicken meat (excluding preparations) amounted to 1,045,591 tons, 2% higher than in the same period of the previous year, which was then the highest ever. Starting in 2014, meat imports increased 7 years in a row, and have risen by as much as 20% over the last decade. The increase during this period was particularly evident in frozen beef products, whose imports increased by 7% year-on-year to 172,693 tons, likely due to increased demand for home-cooked meals. The Japanese are also spending less money than before the pandemic, including on food. According to a survey of households of two or more people published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in January, average monthly consumer spending per household was 267,760 yen, down 6.1% in real terms, excluding the effects of price fluctuations. Consumer spending fell for the second month in a row. Spending on food, including eating out, was 74,250 yen, down 2.2% from the previous year[2].

This decline is linked to the closure of catering establishments, which can only sell takeaway or delivery meals. This is taking its toll on this sector. A significant reduction in the activity brings bankruptcies, growing unemployment and a downturn in Japan’s agricultural sector. To counter this, the Japanese have launched many local programmes and campaigns to support local farmers, growers and suppliers. These programmes promote, among others, ordering of meals for delivery and use of pre-cooked and seasoned dishes requiring only heat treatment[3].

The new situation has forced the Japanese to cook at home – which is why they choose raw meat in shops more frequently than a year ago, requiring preparation from scratch, including beef which has a special place in Japanese cuisine. Increasingly, it is beef from Poland. Its exports in 2020 already amounted to more than 4,000 tons, with an increase of 28% year-on-year. Importers reach for Polish beef as a safe product of reproducible high quality. Polish beef is produced in accordance with the high standards set by the European Union, where particular importance is attached to the safety and traceability of raw materials at every stage of production, welfare of livestock and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with production.

Today, you can directly contact one of Polish exporters authorised to export beef to Japan to discuss import details and tailor the assortment to the current needs of Japanese buyers. You can find a list of Polish manufacturers here.

If you would like more information – feel free to contact us by e-mail:

[1] The Japan Agricultural News, 31.07.2020,