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Prices up on bread, beef bowls, soy sauce in Japan amid global supply issues

A shelf is seen at the main branch of supermarket Akidai Sekimachi in Tokyo's Nerima Ward on Nov. 11, 2021. Many products including cooking oil, margarine and others are going up in price. (Mainichi/Mio Ikeda)

TOKYO -- Prices for bread, cooking oil and other products people use in their daily lives are going up one after another in Japan, placing a heavy burden on household spending. How far can prices on goods rise, and what effect will this have on living standards?

    "I feel like everything except vegetables is getting more expensive. It's difficult for people living on their pensions," said a woman in her 70s out shopping at the main branch of supermarket Akidai Sekimachi in Tokyo's Nerima Ward. She said she had felt strongly that many goods, including bread and cooking oil, had gone up in price recently.

    She lives with her husband. Although they were making efforts to save by using frozen foods that can be eaten little by little while staying good, she couldn't hide her concern: "It seems all sorts of things are going to get more expensive. If prices get much higher, I'll reach my limit on what I can do."

    Royal Bread, one of the products from Yamazaki Baking Co. that is set for a price hike, is seen in this image provided by the company.

    Supermarkets, too, are struggling with what retail prices to set for the increasingly expensive products they stock. Hiromichi Akiba, head of the Akidai chain, expressed frustration: "Gasoline has gotten expensive, and transport costs have risen. It's quite difficult. But if prices keep going up then we might lose customers."

    Price revision announcements from food manufacturers and restaurant chains are coming steadily. Nisshin Seifun Group's Nisshin Foods Inc. has revealed that from January 2022, 151 of its products -- including home flour goods and others -- will have higher price tags.

    The economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis and resultant steeply rising demand for wheat in China and poor harvests in the U.S. due to poor weather conditions have led to the Japanese government raising the sale price for imported wheat, which it reviews every six months. In response to rising flour prices, Yamazaki Baking Co. will from January 2022 raise the prices on a total of 247 products including toast bread and sweet bread by an average of 7.3%.

    But rising costs are going further than flour. Estimates by the independent administrative institution the Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corporation, show that wholesale prices for short plate, a U.S.-made, relatively cheap cut of beef often used in gyudon beef bowls and all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ, have risen precipitously since this spring. By September, prices were more than 80% higher in a year-on-year comparison for three consecutive months. There are reportedly numerous factors at play, including reduced operations at meat plants due to the pandemic, rising demand in China and elsewhere, and resultant container shortages causing freight costs to rise.

    A Yoshinoya restaurant sign is seen in this file photo taken in the city of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, on May 8, 2019. Yoshinoya Co. has decided to increase its prices in response to surging beef import costs. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

    Due to surging beef import prices, gyudon beef bowl chain Yoshinoya Co. made the decision on Oct. 29 to up its prices. Its regular size bowls are getting more expensive for the first time in seven years, and a customer ordering one to eat in with 10% consumption tax added will go from being billed 387 yen (approx. $3.4) to 426 yen ($3.7).

    Soaring soy bean prices are also contributing to the problem. The effects of the African Swine Fever virus have depressed pork production, and to stimulate greater pig cultivation Chinese producers are importing more and more soy beans to be used as animal feed. Additionally, with the world strengthening moves away from fossil fuels, demand for soy beans in biofuels has also risen. Kikkoman Corp. will raise prices on soy sauce and soy milk delivered from Feb. 16, 2022. It is the first rise since 2008.

    (Japanese original by Hironori Takechi, Mio Ikeda, Ayane Matsuyama and Kenji Wada, Business News Department)

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