Japan’s tomato boom not yet bust

August 29th, 2012 by Felicity Hughes

Back in February, a seemingly unstoppable river of tomato juice was flowing out of supermarket doors up and down the country as Japanese shoppers jumped on the latest food fad to hit the nation. The frenzy had been sparked by a report written by researchers at Kyoto University that seemed to indicate that consuming large amounts of tomatoes was effective in alleviating “metabolic syndrome” (read: getting rid of your gut). Nearly six months later, although the tide of red pulp has slowed somewhat, sales of tomato juice are still significantly up, indicating that the trend is still in season.

Tomatoes are still on the menu in Japan

Kagome, who own a whopping half share in the domestic tomato juice market, report that they shipped double the amount of tomato juice in June this year compared to the same period in previous years. A Nikkei Shimbun article reports that sales of fresh tomatoes are also up, with Summit supermarket recording a 21 percent year-on-year rise in tomato sales this June.

It would be easy to call the jump in fresh tomato sales a statistical anomaly, since radiation anxiety made last year an exceptionally poor one for fresh veggie sales. But there is other evidence that home-makers are flocking back to the humble tomato. Recipe website Cookpad now has about 105,000 tomatotastic recipes submitted by users. Before the tomato boom, there were about 1,000 contributions per month for new tomato recipes. After the fad hit, that figure rose to 2,500.

Meiji Dairies Corporation, along with the Japan Vegetable Sommeliers Association, has been trying to generate public interest in the idea of vegetable chocolate fondue since last summer. Tying in nicely with the trend for gourmet vegetables, the idea is that you can savor the tangy acidity of your tomatoes alongside the sweet taste of chocolate. (You can simulate the experience somewhat by grabbing a pack of Meiji’s Chocolat de Tomato.)

The trend of appreciating gourmet vegetables has run alongside the home vegetable gardening boom, and in this sphere too, tomatoes are prominent. Home improvement store Cainz reported a 50 percent increase in sales of tomato seeds in March this year. No doubt fears over food safety and temporary food shortages after the 3.11 Fukushima meltdown has had an effect on this sudden burst of interest.

Tomato growers have been quick to cash in on the increased interest. Sasaichi sake brewers in Yamanashi, for instance, has developed a tomato liquor made from fresh tomatoes grown in the area, while in Takasaki, Gunma, a tomato ice cream has been on sale since July 27. So it seems the juice has not quite yet run out of the tomato boom.

Photo by tooony [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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