Indian Quenn Basmati rice by Bharat Industrial Enterprises LimitedTOKYO — Japan’s rice exports have already surpassed its previous annual record, helped by producers’ marketing efforts and an investment made by a major Asian distributor. Export volumes, excluding rice for humanitarian aid, grew 33 percent year on year to 7,673 metric tonnes for the period January-October. Even without the two last months of the year into consideration, it already exceeds 2015’s record of 7,640 MT.  Yumepirika brand rice from Hokkaido debuted in the high-end supermarkets in Shanghai In November, owing to sales campaign led by the Japanese locality’s governor, Mr. Harumi Takahashi.

Mr. Kitoku Shinryo, a rice distributor involved in the deal, aims to boost exports from the current 1,000 MT per year to 3,000 MT by 2020. He recently invested in a Vietnamese food-related company promoting rice production in Southeast Asia. He wishes to expand his planting acreage in hopes of setting up a foothold in the country for rice milling and sales. The popularity of Japanese rice apparently started to grow around 2012, when agricultural machinery maker Kubota began building logistical networks to mill rice in Hong Kong and Singapore. Consumers found Japanese rice tasty after milling was moved closer to local markets, said Dennis Wu of Aji-No-Chinmi, a Hong Kong trading house specializing in Japanese food.

Still, Japan’s domestic demand, which amounted to 7.66 million tons from July 2015 to June 2016, is falling by 80,000 tons a year and the record exports aren’t close to offsetting the drop. High prices are the main obstacle to more overseas sales. At stores in Hong Kong, Japanese rice costs from 130-140 Hong Kong dollars ($16.7 to $18) for 2 kgs which is 3-4 times the price for Chinese rice, according to Wu. But some are taking advantage of the high prices. Rice milling machinery maker and retailer Toyo Rice began selling the world’s most expensive rice, certified by the Guinness World Records. The product, an original blend of several varieties, is priced at 11,304 yen ($97.96) per kg, about 30 times the cost of the commonly eaten Koshihikari variety. The Guinness certification eliminates the need to explain the high prices in selling the rice to wealthy consumers overseas. Only 120 kgs of the luxurious variety were made available in Hong Kong, and the rice apparently flew off the shelves. There are plans to increase export volume of the elite product, depending on next year’s harvest.