B-Corps, Edamame and Takenoko. Is there more to Japanese farmers’ markets than meets the eye?

Farmers markets aren’t normally a trade channel that tend to come up in my business conversations, especially regarding Japan.

Most of our clients associate Japan with convenience stores, supermarkets and drug stores; vending used to be mentioned a lot though less so these days.

In other markets there has been a growing cohort of shoppers who dislike big box supermarkets, multinational companies and their supposedly faceless executives. (Yes I was one once)

It’s this trend that has seen retailers like Wholefoods emerge. A few years ago I attended a natural food trade show back in the UK and was amazed to see wholesalers and distributors who I’d never heard of.

Farmers’ Markets have become popular in the West. There are apparently over 8,000 in the US. They rely on word of mouth, typically eschew traditional marketing and can be a great way for entrepreneurs and those with agricultural side hustles to make a few dollars. I was fascinated by this recent article in the WSJ profiling 4 vendors on how they made their money.

In the UK there are around 650 farmers markets. This is Cornwall’s Truro market, one of the most popular.

I digress. What has this to do with Japan? Well there are over 1700 farmers markets here. That’s a far bigger number than most people realise. Many are linked to Zennoh, the agricultural cooperative.

If you live in Tokyo you may have been to the Roppongi or Aoyamadai Farmers markets.

Interestingly some suppliers to Japanese Farmers markets are urban farmers. If you live in the suburbs there are many small land plots turned over to agricultural produce. Around 25% of all Japanese farms are urban!

This week I visited a Farmers market in Osaka. Unlike many overseas, it was open daily and even on a weekday lunchtime I had to queue to get into the carpark. Quite a lot of produce had sold out by the time I got there.

The market was a refreshing change of ambience and décor compared to a local supermarket. No bright red and yellow signage. All POS materials were hand written. It was busy yet quiet; almost therapeutic.

Can Farmers markets be a way to launch new brands? Possibly. I’d love to try the Pizza Prof’s fare! 

One potential fit for Farmers markets are B-Corps. There are a growing number in the food industry. Ben & Jerrys is a famous example as is Stonyfield farm. Whilst B-Corps have yet to be seen here in Japan, at least in a major way, never say never. The times they are a changing.

(PS. In case you were wondering, Takenoko are bamboo shoots and the ones sold here are huge!)