Want the Yen? Speak Japanese

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After years of attempting to crack the Japanese flower market, only one hurdle remains before Kenya can open its door to flower-yens.

According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) Nairobi office executive director Shintaro Matoba, Kenyans targeting Tokyo must start packaging in materials labelled in Japanese to enable consumers there to get a better grasp of the types of flowers coming from the country.

This, coupled with understanding the demands of the Asian market would improve prices, he said, and see Kenya’s flowers penetrate deeper into the sophisticated country.

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“Flowers destined for the Japanese market need to be pack¬aged in small and thin plastic film and printed in Japanese to indicate that they were made for the country,” he said.

The right packaging at the place of origin would further increase the value of the produce as subsequent labour costs incurred while repackaging the flowers after landing in Japan are cut, he said and added that  labour costs are

higher in Japan than Kenya.

Jetro facilitates trade and investment between Japan and overseas countries and currently has offices in various sub-Saharan Africa countries including Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

Further, Japan-specific pack¬aging would make it easier for importers to handle the product as it arrives ready to sell and all an importer needs to do is take it out and put on the shelves for display.

“Some of the flowers arrive damaged during shipment and have to be repackaged in Japan leading to losses in both revenues and time,” said the Jetro boss.

Kenya is already the leading exporter of flowers to Japan according to the World Atlas figures for 2009 which report a blossoming sale of cut flowers and rose buds. The country’s flower export revenues to Japan have been increasing since 2007 when it earned $19 mil¬lion, rising to $21 million in 2008 and further to $23.2 last year.

The volumes have also recorded a rise from 363.6 tonnes of flowers in 2007 to 397 tonnes in 2008 and then 418 tonnes in 2009.

This year, it is poised to be even better, according to the Kenya Flower Council (KFC) chief executive officer Jane Ngige who says that after the Icelandic volcanic eruption shut the EU airspace leading to a frantic search for an alternative route in March, Kenya discovered a new market by default.

“After our sales in Japan shot as it served as an alternative market, there has been a steady rise in ex-ports there,” she said.

Some exporters who have been shipping more and more stems to Asia, while admitting that they are doing roaring business declined to divulge further details saying it was too early to celebrate.

Kenya’s other main flower exporting destination is the European Union mainly Netherlands, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Switzerland, where it is the leading exporter commanding a clear 40 per cent of all flower sales, followed by Columbia with 17 per cent and Israel at 16 per cent. Kenya is also pursuing the US market.

The need for Kenya to consolidate its Japanese market stems from concerns over its declining market share there, despite the high sales. The country now ranks 12th overall in terms of cut flower and buds exports to Japan. Its market position compared with competitors has been reducing since 2007 when it stood at 3.54 per cent, then reduced to

2.21 per cent in 2008 before further declining to 2.01 per cent in 2009, thereby recording an overall cumulative decline in market share of 3.17 per cent Unlike the UK consumers who flower stems packaged in one bunch, the Japanese like fewer stems per package or

Mr Matoba urged the industry to focus on exporting varieties that are more popular with Japanese consumers like different colours roses, head sizes as well as length of the stems.

Statistics from the KFC indicate that the share of Kenya’s exports to the UK has been increasing due to a growing market especially of mixed bouquets as well as increased direct sales.

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