Akihiro Sawada is clearly a big fan of Britain and its food and drink products. As a senior buyer at Jusco, one of Japan's top supermarket chains, it is his job to scour the world looking for interesting stuff to offer customers. He says Jusco shoppers want products that are healthy, have a good record on safety, are convenient and price competitive. As far as Britain is concerned, Sawada's shopping list is a somewhat startling mix that includes cinammon shortbread, Indian curries, ravioli, frozen cakes, tea, breadsticks, biscuits and lemon cod. He has tasted this sort of stuff on previous fact finding missions to Britain and has found plenty that excites him. But, like any supermarket buyer, he insists every product appearing on his shelves must justify its place there. And all too often British exporters fall down for one or more reasons. First, changing products to overcome the differences between Japan and Britain in areas such as taste, packaging styles and unit size can be costly for manufacturers. But Sawada believes these costs need to be shared: "In order to change the flavour of a product we always have to order the minimum for that, which can be a risk for us because we have to buy a large amount." The logistical headaches of getting product to Japan also add cost to any product. But trying to persuade Jusco to order more product to reduce costs is not on. Sawada says that if he is importing something for the first time, or as an experiment, he doesn't want to end up with too much product on his hands. And any product has to be able to survive the journey to Japan and have a two month shelf life when it gets there. The fact these issues can be overcome is demonstrated by the work of Chivers Hartley ­ with the help of Food from Britain ­ to develop Jusco's Cambridgeshire range of own label jams. And Sawada seems optimistic of repeating that successful partnership with other British suppliers. But there's still some way to go. Last year, Jusco imported ¥75bn a year of food and drink products, of which just ¥130m was bought direct from Britain. Sawada says this has as much to do with the fact not enough British companies are doing the right things as it is with Japanese consumers not wanting what's being offered. Sawada says: "British suppliers should be better informed about the Japanese market and understand what products are selling and why. But they should not give up after making just one mistake. They should keep on trying. The Japanese public is still getting acquainted with British products and as we try to make them aware of what's available, British companies should put some effort behind their products through promotions and advertising." {{COVER FEATURE }}