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Commodity Innovation Series – Snapshot of opportunities in Japan’s alfalfa sector

Japan is the world’s largest alfalfa importer.

This report is about alfalfa bulk for forage and ingredient for pet food.

Market trends

World forage exports have been based on two markets, Japan and South Korea, which continue to represent over half of all sales overseas. However, that share is falling. Japan and South Korea accounted for 72% of exports in 2009, but only 47% in 2016. Japan and South Korea purchased less forage in 2016 (US$957 million) than they did in 2012 (US$1.39 billion), a 28% decrease.

From 2008 to 2017, 233 products using alfalfa as an ingredient for pet food were launched in Japan.

Alfalfa trade

Japan imported alfalfa worth US$50 million in 2016, representing 18% of the total world alfalfa supply (US$281 million).

It is expected that Japan will import less forage in the future. The Transpacific Partnership (TPP) that Japan has agreed to will encourage more imports of dairy and beef products, putting stress on inefficient, small-sized dairies (Japan average about 50 head per farm).

The alfalfa import has been steadily decreasing from 2012 to 2016 due to the aging farmers with a -6% compound annual growth rate. In 1980, 28% of all Japanese farmers were aged 65 or older; by 2010, that portion had risen to 74%. As farms shut their doors or consolidate, feeding styles will change as farmers try to find more cost-efficient ways to feed their cattle.

Alfalfa in bulk

Canada was japan’s third-largest alfalfa supplier.

Top Alfalfa suppliers to Japan
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Country Percentage
Australia 70%
United States 22%
Canada 3%
France 2%
Italy 2%
Other 1%

Canada was Japan’s third-largest supplier and exported alfalfa to Japan at a value of US$5 million, and at a volume of 22,667 tonnes in 2016, represting only 3% of the total world alfalfa supply.

Due to Japan’s growing imports of dairy and beef products, and its aging farmers, Canada had a negative compound annual growth rate of -28% from 2012 to 2016.

Canadian alfalfa exports to Japan in US$ 2012-2016
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Product Percentage
Lucerne (alfalfa) meal and pellets, dehydrated 75%
Lucerne (alfalfa) meal and pellets,suncured 25%

Canadian exported to Japan of dehydrated Lucerne (alfalfa) meal and pellets decreased at a compound annual growth rate of -37% from 2012 (US$14 million) to 2016 (US$2,2 million).

Canadian exported to Japan of suncured Lucerne (alfalfa) meal and pellets decreased at a compound annual growth rate of -22% from 2012 (US$2.1 million) to 2016 (US$0.7 million).

Alfalfa as an ingredient

From 2008 to 2017, 233 products using alfalfa as an ingredient for pet food were launched, representing 15% of the total new alfalfa products launched in the world (1508). 71 were relaunches and 37 were new products.

Japanese companies are launching an average of 23 products using alfalfa per year.

Japan's top five companies and their brands from 2008 to 2017
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Company Number of variants Top brand
Yeaster 111 Prostage
Nisshine Pet Food 57 Inu No Shiawase
Mars 17 Cesar
Nutro 12 Natural Choice Special Care
Aeon 7 Topvalu Select

Growing interest in naturally healthy foods

Growing claims

  1. Low/no/reduced allergen
  2. Easy of use
  3. Other - (functional pet)
  4. Pet - senior
  5. Eyesight (functional pet)

Declining claims

  1. Low/no/reduced calories
  2. Economy
  3. Environmentally friendly product
  4. Low/no/reduced sugar
  5. Low/no/reduced sodium)

Increasing focus on convenient packaging

Top package types

  1. Flexible
  2. Flexible stand-up pouch
  3. Flexible sachet
  4. Tray
  5. Carton

Top package materials

  1. Plastic polythene
  2. Metallised film
  3. Plastic unspecified
  4. Plastic other
  5. Board plastic lined

Top innovative markets for alfalfa in the world

Japan is the ninth largest innovative alfalfa market in the world.

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Innovation Criteria USA Canada UK Australia Germany Mexico Finland Spain Japan Russia
Relaunch Fair Low Fair Low Low Low Low Low Good Low
New product Very good Excellent Very good Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Good Excellent
Product line diversity Good Fair Fair Fair Fair Fair Low Low Low Low
Health & wellness claims Excellent Excellent Very good Very good Very good Very good Very good Good Good Fair
Rating scale: Excellent (20-17), Very good (16-13), Good (12-9), Fair (8-5), Low (4-0)

Factors of consideration

Recommendations for entry

How we can help

View our Agri-Food Trade Services for information and support to help you achieve your international business goals.

International Trade Commissioners are also an excellent point of contact for export advice and can provide Canadian industry with on-the-ground expertise regarding market potential, current conditions, and local business contacts.

Our market intelligence services include:

Have we piqued your interest?

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