• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

Japanese food industry eyes rice flour as wheat prices rise

ByStephanie M. Akbar

Oct 9, 2022

Japanese food producers are looking to promote domestic consumption of rice flour products, as the weak yen and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have dramatically increased the cost of importing other types of grains.

Consumption of rice as a staple food has declined in Japan as more people turn to bread and noodles. The country’s rice demand for the year from this July is estimated at 6.9 million tonnes, dropping below 7 million tonnes for the first time.

A file photo shows rice almost ready to harvest in rice fields in Ina City, Saitama Prefecture on September 3, 2022. (Kyodo)

In the context of these dietary changes, the government has facilitated farmers’ transition to producing rice for animal feed or for making rice flour by providing subsidies to alleviate oversupply.

Due to higher grain prices, 45 of Japan’s 47 prefectures are expected to increase their production of fodder rice compared to last year. Twenty-seven is expected to increase the production of rice used for making rice flour.

Japan imports more than 80% of its wheat, but prices on the world market have jumped since the outbreak of war between major wheat exporters Russia and Ukraine, disrupting supplies.

The weakness of the yen has further increased domestic prices of products using flour.

Mitake Food Manufacturing Co., a rice flour production company based in Toda, Saitama Prefecture, reports that since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, several food companies have contacted it saying that they would like to use rice flour instead of flour.

“We want to promote the benefits of rice flour so that it doesn’t end in fad,” said Hideyuki Takeuchi, president of the company.

Although efforts were made in the past to promote rice flour, the demand remained low because its price was more expensive than wheat flour. However, the price gap narrowed following the Ukrainian crisis, allowing some rice flour producers in Japan to sell their products at prices very close to wheat flour.

Various types of rice, including those that can be used to make bread or noodles, have been developed. Increasingly, local governments are supporting such initiatives, including Fukuoka Prefecture, which decided to subsidize products using rice flour made by the prefecture.

Rice fodder development technologies have improved. Among its many uses, rice fodder can also be used as chicken feed. The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations, or Zen-Noh, has acquired a patent for a technology that completely replaces corn and other grains in the fodder of laying hens.

The use of rice products in chicken feed has been limited to around 10%, as feeding larger amounts may result in whitish yolk eggs.

However, by using technology to add pigments to feed, the organization can produce eggs with an orange yolk that are more appealing to the Japanese market.

The amount of corn used as fodder for laying hens in Japan totaled more than 3 million tons in fiscal year 2021.

Zen-Noh said he hopes demand for fodder rice will increase as rice replaces other grains.

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