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Asia will lead foods

DANIEL LOOKER 04/05/2012 @ 3:23pm Business Editor

Today, China is a key market for bulk commodities from the U.S. But in the future, we'll lose out if we don't anticipate demand from affluent Asian consumers for specialized foods that fit their healthy lifestyles. More exports from the U.S. will likely be identity-preserved, backed by quality tracking.

That's a key conclusion from “Food 2040,” a report the U.S. Grains Council released at last month's USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.

“It envisions that Asian demand will be restructuring the food system,” the council's president and CEO, Thomas Dorr, said at the Forum. Earlier, Dorr said the study's authors used Japan as a bellwether for other affluent Asian countries' buying and eating patterns.

By 2040, 70% of food consumed in Japan will be prepared outside the home. Many consumers in Japan won't even have kitchens, perhaps just a corner sink, microwave, and small refrigerator.

That could be part of a food system that has less waste, Dorr says. “If you can buy precisely what you need without any waste, you can capitalize that efficiency into a higher value product.”

Leapfrogging systems

Just as they quickly adopted cell phones without building expensive landline systems found in the U.S., developing nations may establish food systems that leapfrog into high-tech distribution for sophisticated consumers.

“What we're going to have to do long term – and maybe short term – is figure out how we can compete in those markets,” Dorr says. China may be behind Japan, but Dorr doesn't expect that to last long.

“China doesn't have systems in place to manage food safety, but it is developing them,” he says. And, because of the size of its market, China will likely be setting food standards for exporters.

Dorr sees this as an opportunity.

“We have the technology, economic wherewithal, and creativity to develop value-added products,” he says.

Find “Food 2040” at www.grains.org.

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