Fukushima dried persimmons to be exported to Dubai

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Employees of the Fukushima prefectural government put stickers with information in Arabic on Anpogaki dried persimmons, which were scheduled to be exported to Dubai, in Date, Fukushima Prefecture, on Jan. 7.

FUKUSHIMA — The hard work of the Fukushima prefectural government over the past three years finally bore fruit with Anpogaki dried persimmons that were set to be exported to Dubai for the first time. The fruit is a specialty of northern Fukushima Prefecture.

Those involved in the project hope the dried persimmons will be well received in Dubai, a crossroad for travel to Europe and elsewhere. They also hope people around the world will be made more aware that food products from the prefecture are delicious and safe.

On Jan. 7, prefectural government employees and others at a facility called Anpo Kobo Mirai put stickers listing the ingredients, preservation methods and other information in Arabic on 800 bags of Anpogaki dried persimmons that were set to be exported to Dubai. Anpo Kobo Mirai is a collection and shipping facility of the JA Fukushima Mirai agricultural cooperative in Date, Fukushima Prefecture.

“I hope the taste of Anpogaki will be appreciated in Dubai, where people and goods gather,” said Hiroyuki Ito, 49, chief of the prefectural government’s agricultural product distribution section, who has been involved in the project.

Although Anpogaki dried persimmons were previously exported to Thailand and Malaysia, it has been a challenge to expand the specialty’s overseas sales channels especially due to the 2011 nuclear accident triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake. The prefectural government focused on dried dates being widely eaten in the United Arab Emirates, then set their sights on the country after it lifted import restrictions on food products from the prefecture in 2020. The restrictions had been imposed in the wake of the nuclear crisis.

Prefectural government officials and others visited Dubai to conduct a market survey such as by having local people taste Anpogaki. They also learned that people in the UAE tend to be highly health-conscious and concluded that Anpogaki dried persimmons, which are characterized by their natural sweetness, were highly likely to be accepted there.

They found a route to deliver the persimmons to the local markets through a trading company that has a business relationship with the prefecture. However, they were requested to extend Anpogaki’s shelf life, which is usually one month. After examining several freezing periods and conducting quality tests after defrosting, they confirmed that the best-by date could be extended to a maximum of one year.

Anpogaki persimmons are scheduled to arrive in Dubai sometime in February or March, and then the products will be delivered to restaurants and Japanese supermarkets. The prefectural government also plans to feature Anpogaki in food trade fairs.

“I hope we can convey the delicious taste of agricultural products from Fukushima, and I hope import restrictions will be further lifted,” Ito said.

Playing key role

As many as 55 countries and regions restricted the import of agricultural products from Fukushima Prefecture at one point due to the nuclear accident. However, the figure has fallen to 14 as the prefectural government has actively sent out food safety information on social media and within the countries. With help from so-called prefectural food export coordinators who have been working since last May, sales channels for Fukushima food products have been steadily expanding.

Yasuhiro Shiota, 52, one of the coordinators who runs a trading company in Hiroshima Prefecture, received a consultation from JA Aizu Yotsuba last September after the United States scrapped its import restrictions on Fukushima food products. The JA branch sought his help as it aims to have rice from Aizu make inroads into the U.S. market.

Shiota sent samples of rice to people, such as a man who runs a Japanese food import trading company in the United States, and managed to arrange a deal to showcase the rice at a Japanese food fair to be held in Los Angeles in March. However, only 140 kilograms of the rice will be prepared for the event.

“I would love for people to experience how delicious the rice is first, then I’d love to increase the amount of rice to sell,” Shiota said.