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Japanese seek assurances of continued wheat quality

Satoru Koyajima likes the quality of the Canadian durum, but wonders if it will be there in the future.

“We are a little bit concerned now that the Canadian Wheat Board is not operating as it used to,” he said through a translator.

But the research and development leader with Japan’s largest pasta producer has come to Winnipeg to be convinced that he can still rely on Canada.

“I’m hoping I can gather some information,” said Koyajima.

That hope is shared by the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi), which hosted 15 millers and pasta makers from Japan last week for a program focused on Canadian durum.

“I think the role that Cigi plays, especially in the transition period, is that of assuring customers that Canada is still producing the best wheat and durum in the world, and that Canada can still deliver the best wheat in the world,” said Earl Geddes, the institute’s executive director.

Founded in 1972, Cigi’s aim is to create profitable opportunities for Canadian field crops by sharing technical expertise, as well as offering training and support.

But since April, the organization has run programs like this without the direction of the Canadian Wheat Board, which used to be its main source of funds. Previously, the board would look at its customers and decide where a program would be most beneficial before inviting a group to participate.

Now Cigi is relying on its farmer and industry advisory committees for direction.

“So this is the first time we’ve done it just as Cigi, with advice from our industry partners, so it’s new to us in that regard,” said Geddes.

Specific requirements

The Cigi-Japan Durum Wheat Program has also been changed to reflect changes in the Japanese market.

“Japan’s durum millers and pasta processors have very significant and specific quality requirements,” said Esey Assefaw, head of Asian products and extrusion technology at Cigi. “The Japanese pasta market is going through considerable changes brought about by economic factors and changes in consumer preferences.”

Koyajima said more people are now reheating noodles, making the texture even more important for consumers.

“In Japan, consumers are going frequently to convenience stores and they are looking for pasta lunch boxes, and also frozen pasta,” he said. “But still, (they) are looking for a very high-quality pasta.”

Those consumers are also looking for lower prices.

“Therefore, Japanese manufacturers are trying to bring the costs down,” said Koyajima.

Cigi wants to understand these market changes better, and also work to help Japanese manufacturers meet these new demands, said Geddes.

The Japanese market relies on nearly 100 per cent Canadian durum, the equivalent of about 240,000 tonnes each year.

They also buy the highest quality, often at the highest price, adds the executive director.

But even as the institute works with countries like Japan, as well as many others — it was just finishing a program with Germans and Americans — Geddes said other organizations are working at a cross-purpose.

Marketing agencies, such as U.S. Wheat Associates, have worked to convince some clients that Canada can’t deliver in post-single-desk system,” he said.

“Of course that is just wrong,” said Geddes. “And we have to spend some time dispelling that myth.”

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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