Japan: Soy sauce maker shifts focus through halal certification

The Japan News

imagesYAMAGATA—Marujyu Soysauce & Seasoning Corp., a well-established soy sauce manufacturer in Yamagata, became the first in the prefecture to obtain halal certification in order to focus more on exporting its products to the Muslim world. The certification is essential in developing a business centering on food targeted at Muslims. With a population of over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and with an increasingly appealing market, there is a growing interest in the certification among companies around the prefecture.

An Islamic legal expert from the Japan Halal Association, an Osaka-based nonprofit organization which issues halal certificates, visited the company on April 28 and gave 51-year-old Tomoaki Sato, the president of the company, the good news that their soy sauce products had been certified as halal products. It is not only the first halal certification for soy sauce products in Yamagata Prefecture, but also the first in the country.

Halal certification proves that the product complies with Islamic law. Halal means “permitted by God” in Arabic. To be certified, there are rules such as not including pork or alcohol, which are forbidden by Muslim law, and not using cooking utensils that have come into contact with such items. Besides food-related products such as food additives and seasoning materials, items such as cosmetics and medical products are also covered by halal rules.

There are no internationally unified certification organizations, but there are over 10 such organizations in Japan.

Marujyu currently has dealings in eight countries, such as China and South Africa. Overseas sales currently account for less than 10 percent of the total sales, but foreseeing that the domestic market would shrink in the future, the company shifted its focus to Muslim countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, where there is significant economic growth, and started working toward obtaining halal certification in April last year.

First, Marujyu asked the companies that supplied the raw materials for the soy sauce to submit documents that proved they did not use any foodstuff that violated halal standards. Marujyu even changed suppliers in case of noncooperation. The adhesive tape used for packaging was also changed to a type that did not include pig-derived gelatin.

In order to learn about production line management, 11 employees were sent to Japanese food company factories in Malaysia in February. After their return to Japan, a new production line was constructed with halal certification in mind. On April 16, Marujyu cleared the last hurdle for obtaining the certification when a maulvi, or Islamic legal expert, from the Japan Halal Association visited the company and personally cleansed the production lines and pots.

Marujyu plans to export its soy sauce products to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Dubai in United Arab Emirates through its affiliated trading company as early as mid-July. The company is also considering obtaining halal certificates for its other products such as miso.

“I see potential in exporting food products unique to Japan, now that Japanese food is attracting attention overseas. We did experience many difficulties in negotiating with our business partners and in upgrading our facilities, but I’m sure we will be able to discover new opportunities in developing new markets,” Mr. Sato said.

A business seminar for halal certification will be held for the first time in Yamagata on May 26. It will be hosted by JETRO Yamagata (a local office of the Japan External Trade Organization), the Yamagata International Economic Development Support Organization, and the Shonai Bank. The organizers say there have been applications from food companies and hotels within the prefecture.

According to JETRO, halal is an important concept not only in exporting products overseas, but also in attracting tourists to the region from Muslim countries, and the seminar aims to help businesses in the prefecture understand halal.