The Geumgok Nonghyup Shishito chili Export Agricultural Complex(hereinafter simply agricultural cooperative) is exporting shishito chilis(peppers) to Japan where the inspection or examination on imported produce is notoriously thorough and rigid. So, passing the inspection is an indication of the world-class quality of the peppers. Since 2009 when the shishito chilis were first exported to the neighboring country, they have been served on the tables of Japanese consumers for over ten years. The agricultural cooperative is promoting the shishito chilis for sushi fritters, targeting a niche market in Japan. The shishito chilis have won the hearts of the local consumers there with their differentiated textures and taste.
#Popularity in Japan for Ten Years
The agricultural cooperative has been exporting shishito chilis to Japan since 2009. It imports shishito seeds of a Japanese cultivar of peppers from Japan, and distributes them to some local farmers in Munsan-eup in Jinju-si, Gyeongsangname-do. The farmers cultivate the imported seeds to export them for sushi fritters back to Japan. Currently, three farms in Jinju-si are cultivating approximately 30 tons of the shishito chilis a year, and the agricultural cooperative is exporting the shishito chilis produced by the farms to Japan.
Jung Yun-seong, the CEO of the agricultural cooperative, said that shishito chilis are an export item targeting Japan and used as a food ingredient for fried food served along with sushi which is in high demand in Japan. According to him, the demand for the shishito chilis in Japan is at the highest level around December and the agricultural cooperative works harder to increase the production of the shishito chilis around that time.
The shishito chilis to be exported are supplied to Japanese buyers after their most suitable prices are determined once in a year through a discussion with the buyers. When the quality of the shishito chilis to be exported is higher, the demand also increases and the price increases accordingly. The shishito chilis that are 1 cm or less in size are considered most marketable and the agricultural cooperative is thus exporting the shishito chilis that are not that large. The shishito chilis have recently been recognized for their quality, and importers are increasing their purchases. The agricultural cooperative is thoroughly managing their products to be exported to improve the quality further.
As the quality and taste of the shishito chilis have gone viral among Japanese buyers, a growing number of inquiries about the shishito chilis are being received from the buyers who want to expand their imports. Compared to general ones, shishito chilis require more effort and skills for cultivation because they need to be grown in greenhouses where the temperature is kept at 20° or higher even at night. The member farms have honed the technical skills for the cultivation to produce higher-quality shishito chilis. Thus, the farms were able to produce shishito chilis that are now recognized for their high quality. Further, the agricultural cooperative tried hard to produce reliable shishito chilis in terms of food safety while thoroughly controlling pesticide residues, and the shishito chilis are now recognized for their high safety as passing the notoriously rigid inspection on pesticide residues in Japan.
#Education on Thorough Control for Cultivation and Pesticide Residues
The products exported by the agricultural cooperative are popular among local consumers in Japan because only shishito chilis having a better texture and of a desirable size consumers want are sorted out to be exported. In Japan, the shishito chilis are rated as an excellent food ingredient for tempura served after sushi. The agricultural cooperative inspects and educates the member farms on pesticide residues, and there have been no complaints about pesticide residues over the last ten years. In particular, the member farms receive an education on pesticide residues that is professionally conducted by the Rural Development Administration(RDA) to enhance their expertise in the use of agricultural chemicals. In addition to such a required education, they also consult some professionals from an agricultural technology center nearby and the RDA. Through these various efforts, the member farms were able to greatly improve the quality of shishito chilis they produce, and the agricultural cooperative has recently been selected as the best export agricultural complex.
#Expanding Markets in Japan with Top-Quality Peppers
However, since Japan is a sole market for the peppers exported by the agricultural cooperative, the export of the shishito chilis may not be stable due to potential fluctuation in the yen and a political or economic change in the country. That's why the agricultural cooperative is considering expanding the export to Southeast Asian countries in addition to Japan. Meanwhile, it is making efforts to produce more luxurious, high-end products to increase the export to Japan. What's more, the agricultural cooperative sets a fixed price for a year through discussions with importers or buyers to stabilize the income of the farmers. It also builds Japanese buyers' trust for the quality by always exporting high-quality shishito chilis to consolidate the foundation for the stable export of the shishito chilis. Considering the fact that the shishito chilis are supplied to the Japanese market only for sushi, the agricultural cooperative is planning to set an additional target by analyzing the Japanese market for sushi, and strengthen the promotion and marketing efforts by holding sampling events, for example.