Japan is where it all began. That is, the export of U.S. fries based on the expansion of U.S. Quick Service restaurants overseas. This perfect combination began over 40 years ago and has been growing ever since. U.S. exports of frozen potatoes to Japan reached $336 million in the July 2013 to June 2014 marketing year. This represented 29% of total U.S. frozen potato exports for that year. However, in 2014/15, for the first time ever, the volume and value of U.S. exports to Japan declined, dropping 23% to $259 million. On a volume basis, this was a decline of 68,470 metric tons of finished product, with a fresh weight equivalence of 2,520,848 cwt of raw potatoes.
There were many factors that lead to this decline, but chief among them was the slowdown in operations at West Coast ports from October 2014 – February 2015. During that time frame, U.S. exports to Japan declined by 11% compared to a year earlier, while exports from Canada increased by 1% and 94% from the European Union. This shift in market share was not the whole story, as the overall market in Japan in 2014/15 also shrunk by 12%, as measured by exports from the major producers. This decline came from the continuing economic doldrums in the country, but also from the demographic and other societally driven shifts away from western style quick service restaurant fare in the country.
In response to these lost sales, the United States Potato Board (USPB) representative office in Japan has developed an extensive campaign, designed not only to help regain lost market share, but increase consumption of U.S. fries as well. These efforts are being funded by usage of USPB reserves, as directed by the Board’s grower-leaders.
The effort has three main components: digital signage at train and subway stations in Tokyo, an American Fried Potato Theme Park website and a social media campaign based on the 10th of every month being designated at U.S. Fries Day. A key component of all these promotions has been the creation of videos reminding people how much fun U.S. fries are for family and friends. This also included the development of a U.S. fries’ song and dance that a popular teen group,ILoVU, has picked up and performed as well. Source: USPB