Chia seeds and other superfoods have finally reached Japan. Over the last six months, some of the larger domestic supermarket chains and organic specialty stores have added superfood products, such as chia seeds, coconut oil, wheatgrass, acai berry and maca powder, to their product line-up. Importers bring most of the brands carrying these ingredients from the US or Europe.
Up until recently, it was difficult to find chia in Japan. There are very strict regulations for the import of plants, seeds, and other plant products in the Japanese market, that fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery. There are equally severe quarantine procedures for fresh and dried foods, spices, sauces, and animal and plant products.
With such strict regulations, very few import companies have gone through the procedure of applying for the required permits. And even online retailers would not deliver to Japanese addresses certain dried food orders like chia seeds. However, now chia seems to have finally reached the Japanese market.
At the moment, the line-up of superfoods is small compared to what is offered in organic supermarkets in the Western countries. And it is still very much an urban trend, but product choice will continue to grow as Japanese customers try out the green smoothie powders, dried acai berries, coconut oil, cocoa nibs and chia seeds trending in the Western Hemisphere.
Organic beauty retailers are also jumping on the superfoods bandwagon. Perfumery chain Cosmekitchen was one of the first non-food retailers to add a superfoods shelf to their stores. The Cosmekitchen chain was founded in 2004 by Mash Beauty Lab. As the biggest organic cosmetics retailer in Japan, Cosmekitchen has done lots to drive the development of the organic beauty sector in general.
The company imports its superfoods from US company Sunfoods. In Cosmekitchen’s Tokyo flagship in Shibuya’s luxury Hikarie Shin Q shop, the Sunfoods’ superfoods shelf is placed prominently near the entrance area of the store. The Sunfoods product range includes smoothie powders, dried berries, coconut oil and, of course, chia seeds.
The tiny chia seed known in Mexico since pre-colonial times is also gaining traction in other East Asia markets such as Korea and Taiwan.