More people here sticking with Japanese rice
THE short-grained stickiness of Japanese rice has become more popular here despite costing more, with consumption more than doubling since 2011.
Last year, Singapore residents consumed 1,359 tonnes of rice from Japan, up from 602 tonnes in 2011, figures from state trade promotion arm International Enterprise Singapore showed.
Singapore is the second-largest importer of Japanese rice in the world after Hong Kong, going by data from the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries Japan (MAFFJ).
People here ate eight times as much Japanese rice as the amount exported to China and 26 times that in Malaysia.
Industry players point to increasing affluence, the booming number of Japanese restaurants and the growing number of Japanese expatriates in Singapore as reasons for the increase.
Others said the recent surge in the prices of Thai rice, leading to falling demand here, led to more consumers switching sources.
"The gap in prices between Japanese rice and Thai rice narrowed a little. When that happened, some consumers switched and didn't switch back," said Andrew Tan, 35, chairman of the Singapore General Rice Importers Association.
At Meidi-ya Supermarket, a 5kg bag of Royal Umbrella Thai rice costs $18.95; and a 2kg bag of Niigata Uonuma rice from Japan costs $21.
However, he also pointed out that the rapid rise in figures should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that they started from a low base.
Singapore consumed a total of 325,860 tonnes of rice last year, with Japanese imports making up less than 1 per cent.
Akira Karasawa, MAFFJ's director general of crop production, said the greater consumption of Japanese rice in Singapore could be due to the presence of more Japanese expatriates and restaurants here, as well as the affluence of Singaporeans.
The Japanese ministry has launched the This Is Japan Quality logo, which is tagged onto all Japanese rice products here. It has a QR code that links to a website with information about the merits of Japanese rice.
Supermarkets are also seeing brisk sales.
At Giant, demand for Japanese rice has grown each year since 2011, with its spokesman reporting "high single-digit percentage growth" year-on-year. FairPrice saw 50 per cent growth last year from 2013 of its house brand FairPrice Japonica Rice.
Jane Wong, 36, started buying more Japanese rice last year to make Japanese meals for her four children to take to school because "it is healthier", she said. She added that she usually makes sushi for them.
However, replacing the Vietnamese rice they eat for their daily meals with Japanese rice is not an option for now. "The price is still too high," she said.