Seafood price increases in Japan outpaced general price hikes in late 2021

Japanese seafood prices increased in November 2021 across most seafood types.

The November 2021 consumer price index for Japan showed price increases on both fresh and shelf-stable seafood compared to last year, outpacing general price hikes.

The Statistics Bureau of Japan released the November 2021 pricing information on 24 December, showing that prices rose 0.6 percent overall from the same period last year, and 0.3 percent from October 2021, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Most of that overall price hike was in energy, with food increasing slightly. Without the energy increases taken into account, prices actually fell 0.6 percent annually.

However the statistical tables show consumer prices of fish and seafood rose 5.2 percent from November 2020, and 1.5 percent from October. Fresh fish and seafood rose even more: 8.0 percent from November 2020 and 2.4 percent from October.

There were price hikes for most species compared to November 2020 and October 2021, respectively. Tuna fish saw some of the biggest increases, up 14.1 over November 2020 and 3.1 percent over the previous month. Octopus rose a whopping 18.9 percent from a year earlier and 4.4 from the previous month. Scallops rose 15.8 and 0.3 percent, respectively, while yellowtail rose 9.6 and 3.5, cuttlefish was up 4.8 and 7.3 percent, and saury rose 19.2 percent from November 2020 and 0.9 percent from the previous month.

Other species saw slightly smaller price increases. Horse mackerel was up 4.1 percent over November 2020 and 4.3 percent over October 2021. Salmon increased 3.3 percent from the previous year, but was flat compared to October. Sea bream was 5.6 and 1.7 percent higher, respectively. Prawns edged up 0.4 and 1.3 percent, and short-necked clams gained 2.9 and 0.2 percent.

Not all species saw increases compared to previous years. Sardines were down 3.1 percent from last year, but were up 6 percent from October. Mackerel rose 1.7 percent from November 2020, but fell 4.9 percent compared to the previous month. Oysters rose 1.5 percent from a year ago, but fell 3.2 percent from October 2021.

In processed seafood, there was less price movement, reflecting consumer resistance to price hikes.

The Statistics Bureau data shows that salted salmon prices were up 4.6 percent from November 2020 and 0.6 percent from October. Salted cod roe (mentaiko, really made from Alaska pollock) was up 0.9 and 1.1 percent. Dried young sardines (shirasu-boshi) fell by 1.9 and 0.3 percent, respectively, while another type (niboshi) rose 2.2 and 0.4 percent.

Dried horse mackerel was flat from a year earlier, but up 0.4 percent from October. Capelin rose 3.9 percent from last year, but fell 0.2 percent from October. Salmon roe saw a big jump of 19.4 percent and 3.6 percent from November 2020 and October 2021, respectively.

Fish paste products – one of the more price sensitive categories – rose 0.7 percent from November 2020 and fell 0.2 percent from October. However, two of the fish-processing majors, Nissui and Maruha Nichiro, have announced price hikes. Nissui will raise prices of its surimi product by up to 13 percent, and Maruha Nichiro will raise prices of its frozen foods by about 10 percent.

Key to the resistance of price increases on certain goods is a lack of wage inflation in Japan, as wages in the country have remained stagnant. Data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows annual real wages, in terms of U.S. dollar-based purchasing power in Japan, are at about USD 39,000 (EUR 34,440) in 2020, an increase of just 4 percent from 30 years earlier. Over the same time period wages in the U.S. nearly doubled to USD 69,000 (EUR 60,932).

Companies have also had to face increases on the consumption tax, which has risen from 3 percent in 1989, to 5 percent in 1997, to 8 percent in 2014, and 10 percent in 2019. The upshot is strong consumer resistance to price hikes on familiar products with a well-established price point.

Manufacturers are caught in the middle, and many are resorting to “shrinkflation” – reducing package contents while keeping prices the same.  

Photo courtesy of bluehand/Shutterstock


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