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Toyo Reizo Seeking To Turn Farm-raised Bluefin Into Brand Name

When marketing and branding high-priced bluefin tuna, the port where the fish comes from is key.

Oma in Aomori Prefecture is well-known among sushi chefs as providing some of the most expensive bluefin tuna with its fatty “toro,” highly valued by sushi lovers.
However, one company, Toyo Reizo Co., is seeking to buck the tradition and develop a brand name for its farm-raised tuna.

Toyo Reizo, a member of a group headed by trading company Mitsubushi Corp., is the largest tuna seller in the world, boosting some of the world’s top experts on the popular fish. The company also processes whole tuna at its Tokyo branch office and plant in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, for sale in supermarkets in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
One such expert is Akihiro Kurita, 48, the deputy head of the branch office.

“There is a new product that we are eagerly awaiting shipment on, he said.
Kurita was referring to bluefin tuna raised on a farm in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture.
Branded “Tuna Princess,” it takes its name from the boat that transports the fish.
The port names used in the branding process reflect the fact that natural fish is more highly prized than those that are artificially bred.

But, Toyo Reizo is hoping that a brand name not associated with a port can still be made popular.

The main selling point of the Tuna Princess is the fact it is sustainable and does not place a burden on the ocean’s resources.

Because the global stock of wild bluefin tuna is declining, there is talk about designating it an endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), also known as the Washington Treaty. The drop in availability also means retail outlets will have less choice in their selection of tuna.
“Our customers have shown strong interest in the new product,” Kurita said.
Since 2005, Toyo Reizo has been selling tuna raised on farms overseas, including the Mediterranean, under the brand name “Tuna Queen.” By keeping records of what it fed the fish, as well as charting their growth, the company has been able to show the safety of its product.

While the Tuna Queen brand is now known among buyers for retail outlets, it is still not in great demand by individual consumers who have not been made aware of that selling point.

However, Toyo Reizo believes it can overcome that problem with the Tuna Princess brand by having its sales staff talk about the history of each fish and how they were raised since birth.

“We want to emphasize the fact that not only is the fish safe, but that it has helped protect the ocean's resources,” said Hiroshi Kotake, 41, a salesman for Toyo Reizo.

The company plans to initially sell about 1,000 of the farm-raised tuna a year. It is now looking at how best to market the brand, such as through possibly using special seals to identify its fish, as well as posters displayed in stores that point out its best qualities.

Replenishing the stocks of natural tuna is an important task facing Japan because it consumes about a third of the total world catch.

Toyo Reizo is not the only company that has moved into tuna farming.

That trend started after greater international restrictions were placed on the bluefin tuna catch starting in 2000.

In 1960, the total catch of all tuna globally was 640,000 tons. By 2010, that figure tripled to 1.86 million tons. A major reason was due to the spreading popularity of Japanese sushi restaurants abroad that created greater demand for fish. The increase in spending power and growing populations among newly emerging economies also contributed to greater consumption of tuna. The trend for bluefin was just the opposite though; while about 100,000 tons of bluefin was caught in 1960, that figure has now dropped to about 30,000 tons.

To protect the depleted stocks, strict quotas have been placed on bluefin tuna for both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The need to find new sources of tuna has led various companies to move into farming. These included Mitsubishi and Toyota Tsusho Corp., another trading company, as well as the marine products company Kyokuyo Co. and Nippon Meat Packers Inc.

The companies have contributed to doubling the volume of farmed tuna over a five-year period to 9,600 tons in 2012.