July 20, 2023

Does it take too long to get import F&B products on Japanese shelves?

When introducing a new product or brand to the Japanese market, it's important to recognize that ...

Expanding your business and exporting your Western F&B products to Japan can be an exciting opportunity. However, many exporters have faced challenges when it comes to the time required to get their products on Japanese shelves. This article will explore the reasons behind this delay and provide actionable steps to make the process more efficient and successful.


Understanding the Japanese Market:

When introducing a new product or brand to the Japanese market, it's important to recognize that the process may take longer than you're accustomed to, particularly if Japan is your first overseas export market. Japan has unique characteristics that often require additional efforts compared to Western markets. 

1. Reliance on importers and regional wholesalers:

Unlike some Western countries, where retailers directly import the products they sell, most Japanese retailers rely on importers and regional wholesalers. This means you must convince the entire distribution chain to reach the retail shelves, which can take more time and effort. 

2. Cyclical nature of Japanese retail:

Twice a year, typically in spring and autumn, Japanese retailers undergo a"shelf-change" where they reconsider their product portfolios. Missing this timing may require you to wait for the next season to get another chance on the shelves. 

3. Distance and logistics:

Japan is geographically far from most Western countries, resulting in longer shipping times. For example, a sea shipment from Europe generally takes around two months to arrive in Japan. If you must move large volumes of products and rely on ocean transportation, be prepared for a longer timeline.

4. Building trust and overcoming business risk:

Overseas business decisions, especially in a country with different legislation, often involve higher business risks. If you lack a track record in Japan or have a relatively unknown brand or product category locally, it will take additional time to build trust with potential partners.


How can you improve your results?

With careful planning and a tailored approach, you can streamline the process and overcome these challenges. 

1. Localization of Marketing and Sales:

Adapting your marketing and sales strategies to the local consumer culture and preferences is crucial for success in the Japanese market. Understanding the unique purchasing habits and the competitive landscape is key. Invest time and effort into understanding the local market, consumer behavior, and cultural nuances. By tailoring your marketing messages, packaging, and product offerings to align with Japanese demand, you can increase your chances of success. Localizing your sales materials can also make communication and business decision-making easier for your Japanese partners.

2. Seasonal Scheduling:

Adapting the seasonality of your product features and the sales cycles of your target retail segments can significantly impact your product's reception and sales. By aligning your product launches with the appropriate season, you can leverage the Japanese preference for seasonal offerings and increase the appeal of your products.

3. Preparation for Trade Support:

Start preparing for marketing and promotion before your products hit the shelves to demonstrate your commitment to your Japanese distributors. Waiting until your products are already available may result in lost time and initial sluggish sales, which can create a negative impression. Show your dedication and invest in trade support early on to build strong relationships and facilitate a smoother market entry.



Getting your F&B products on Japanese shelves may take longer than you expect. However, you can improve efficiency and success by taking some steps. Localize your marketing and sales, offer seasonal products, and prepare for trade support. Investing in these strategies shows your commitment to meeting Japanese consumers' needs, smoothing your business development.

Although there are no shortcuts to eliminate lead time completely, you can increase efficiency and success by being proactive. Prioritize localizing marketing and sales materials, plan strategic product launches, and build strong trade relationships to navigate the process more successfully.

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