Mizutomi Co., Ltd., which was started in May 2017 in Kumoji, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture, exports fresh produce from various areas of Japan such as wagyu, etc., to China, Southeast Asia and North America. In addition, the company is also putting effort into the processing and sale of food products and is currently building a processing and packaging plant at the Nakagusuku harbor, Shinko district in Uruma City. We asked Managing Director Yuji Takahashi about the reasons for establishing the company, which develops a wide range of business, in Okinawa, the current details of the company’s business, Okinawa’s potential, and future business prospects. (August 2018)
Access to Asia and the Japanese mainland is really good and the international logistics hub of Naha Airport and incentives to attract factories, etc., are also appealing to a food exporter and processor. There is also sufficient potential in the fresh produce that can be obtained in Okinawa.
Mr. Ichikawa, our company’s representative, originally worked for a food exporter in Tokyo, and there were buyers at that company’s customers in Taiwan and China. They told him that they wanted to set up a company in Japan, and Mr. Ichikawa also wanted to start an independent company at that time. Given that, they decided to establish a company together, so the Chinese buyers put in some of the capital. That is the broad flow of how the company came to be started. We are currently operating at our base in Okinawa with our representative, Mr. Ichikawa, at the center of things.
The number one reason, of course, is that access to Asian countries and the Japanese mainland is good. As a company that exports fresh produce from various parts of Japan to overseas, Okinawa is convenient because you can fly to various Asian countries and most places in Japan in about two or three hours. Moreover, if you fly for four or five hours, you can get to Singapore and cover just about everywhere in Japan. Also, Okinawa Prefecture itself is focusing on the formation of a logistics hub using the international logistics hub of Naha Airport, so the point that infrastructure is being established is also an attractive one.
Basically, we export food and apart from that, we also process and sell food. More than anything, demand for wagyu is strong overseas so we mainly export either chilled or frozen blocks of meat. Our main export destinations currently are Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, America, and Canada. For example, in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong, etc., exports are not allowed if wagyu is not processed in designated abattoirs and clears hygiene standards, so our company has a contract with Ito Ham and mainly exports Miyazaki beef processed at an abattoir in Kagoshima, the closest place on the mainland to Okinawa. We also handle some beef produced in Okinawa Prefecture.
It took about half a year to the opening of business and preparation did not take that long. We had customers from the start. So coordinating in practical business with the related agencies of Okinawa was the main work at the preparatory stage. However, we also export daily goods like tofu and natto, and it is still the case now, and has been since before we started, that we are struggling for finding suppliers of those products.
The containers that carry wagyu have a large volume so there is always some empty space. Consequently, if we ship daily goods in accompaniment to the wagyu, we can control time and costs, and send fresh food made in Japan overseas. In particular, Japanese people living in our export destination countries are very happy about this kind of Japanese food and it sells out straight away when it hits the stores. We want to increase the number of products we handle in future too.
So, we ask food manufacturers in Okinawa Prefecture if they would like to expand their market overseas. However, each company has concerns: they might say that increasing production volumes is good, but what would we do if the business disappears, etc., so we need to advance discussions patiently. On the other hand, we have buyers and retailers at our export destinations with requests for increased volumes, so we are continuing to make efforts in-between.
About 70 to 80% of the food that we handle at our company is from the mainland so the cost of logistics between the mainland and Okinawa is the biggest bottleneck. In this case, we need to create advantages from going through Okinawa. So, we are currently advancing plans to build a factory in Uruma City to undergone primary processing, and export processed food products to Hong Kong and Singapore, etc.,. If you take processed goods to overseas, there are various restrictions, but we have held repeated negotiations for easing import restrictions on processed goods with authorities in Singapore over a year.
We are currently exporting Japanese beef and tuna etc., in blocks, but there are parts left over anyhow. For example, we will process and freeze instantly these parts, which people at the destinations do not know how to prepare or process, into hamburgers or minced tuna with onion, etc., and export them. We will make products that can be provided simply with just a little effort added at Japanese restaurants, etc., at the export destinations. Japanese food has spread a lot throughout Asia. So these kinds of products are handy and we expect there will be a certain level of demand.
Speaking in concrete terms, we are already working on business development overseas and have a store at Takashimaya Singapore. We are also currently working on opening a store at Takashimaya Bangkok. Also, because we are a company that gathers fresh produce from all over Japan in Okinawa and then ships that to various countries overseas, we would like to make a place to sell that produce here in Okinawa Prefecture.
For example, there are a lot of inbound travelers to Okinawa including both foreign and domestic, so we would like to open a facility where people could eat seasonal food from across the country somewhere like Kokusai Street where tourists gather. Another advantage would be that we could hold down transportation costs by increasing the volumes we handle. We think that we could provide products at lower prices with multilateral development in the prefecture.
Even in Tokyo, people are already scrambling for tuna, etc., from the seas close to Okinawa, but we think that sales of fresh fish other than tuna will grow in future. Fish from Okinawa is used a lot at high-class Chinese restaurants, etc., so there is a merit for a local Okinawa company that it is easy to line up good foodstuff. Fish in Okinawa tastes light, so it is easy to prepare. We also do business with in-flight meal suppliers, and demand for fish for in-flight meals can also be expected. So we are planning to develop processed food, etc., in future at the factory in Uruma City.
Firstly, with regard to food industry in Okinawa, there is a tremendous number of restaurants in Okinawa. The level of flavor has increased steadily too. Also, if you consider the geographical relationship with Asia too, there are currently airlines coming into Okinawa from overseas such as Hong Kong and Bangkok, etc., that are flying double decker super jumbos. They are all full. In other words, there is that much focus on Okinawa from overseas. Apart from that, I feel that Okinawa has a lot of potential in all sorts of aspects.
In developing business in Okinawa, you might encounter the difficulties caused by its distinctive local manner and cultural gap, but our company receives advice from Okinawa Prefecture and Okinawa Industrial Promotion Public Corporation, etc., on each project. By sharing issues with these related agencies, which will lead them to implementing solutions and accumulating know-how, we hope to contribute to the development of Okinawa Prefecture and the growth of Asian countries overall.
|Mizutomi Co., Ltd.|
|Head office : 7th Floor, Kumoji UF Building, 2-22-12 Kumoji, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture|
|TEL : 098-860-1527|
|Established : May 8, 2017|
|Representative : Satoru Ichikawa|
|Number of employees : 8 people|
|Description of business : Manufacture, sale, export and import of food|
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