Japan is renowned as having the most developed functional foods industry in the world; it was the first country to introduce government-approved health claims in the 1980s.
According to US-based analyst Paul Yamaguchi, the Japanese nutrition market was valued last year at around US$27 billion, but FOSHU foods (foods for specified health uses) account for only $6 billion of this. Non-FOSHU functional foods account for $11 billion, and dietary supplements around $11 billion too.
Europe, meanwhile, there is a fierce spotlight on functional foods with the new health claims regulation - and growing consumer acceptance of the category. Moreover, health food and ingredient trends that start in Japan filter through to the European market.
This movement opens up new opportunities for Japanese companies overseas - as well as a pressing need to keep abreast of the changing regulatory landscape.
"Japanese companies that want to sell in Europe should, above all, understand the European climate," said Efi Leontopolou, scientific and regulatory affairs manager of Brussels-based European Advisory Service (EAS), which has translated its guide to marketing food supplements and fortified and functional foods in Europe into Japanese at the request of food industry leaders.
Nor is Japan regarding its regulations as immovable. The translation of a report on risk analysis of bioactives published by International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations' (IADSA) has been presented to the Japanese health ministry.
IADSA is organizing a conference in Yokohama, Japan, in April 2007, with the aim of bringing regulators, policy and scientific experts to share ideas and identify areas where regulation is not yet complete.
The International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA) is organizing a conference in Yokohama, Japan, in April 2007, with the aim of bringing regulators, policy and scientific experts to share ideas and identify areas where regulation is not yet complete.
The meeting, in association with Japanese member associations, is the first that IADSA has held in Japan. The reasoning behind the choice of location is that it is one of the three biggest markets for supplements in the world, and is often seen as a springboard for entry into other Asian markets.
David Pineda, manager of regulatory affairs at IADSA, told NutraIngredients.com that now is a particularly pertinent time for discussing regulatory changes in Asia since for the 10 ASEAN countries (Association of South East Asian Nations: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) there is a process of harmonization taking place that includes health supplements and traditional medicines.
But Pineda stressed that Japan is not being held up as a model for the ASEAN regulations - nor is the intention to tell regulatory bodies in Japan or other nations what to do. Rather, the conference will highlight regulatory tends across the world, particularly in Asia, the US and the EU.