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Shipping Individual Small-Sized Food Samples to Japanese Buyers

Posted December 08, 2020

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service issued guidance on shipments of samples of new food and beverage products to interested buyers in Japan.
Wrinkled Japanese Flag, Japan Customs Mascot, Coronavirus

This information was felt necessary in light of changes resulting from COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions that have prevented many U.S. exporters from visiting Japan, together with other measures that have dramatically curtailed large trade shows where buyers generally sample and research new food and beverage products. 



As explained by FAS, Japanese buyers looking for new food and beverage products usually try samples before making business decisions, often seeking out new offerings at large trade shows, where they can sample a wide range of items and meet with suppliers face-to-face.

The organizers of large trade shows typically hire customs brokers to assist with the import of samples, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the reduction, postponement, or cancellation of such shows. As a result, U.S. exporters are now having to deal more directly with Japanese customs procedures and import requirements.


Standard Import Procedures

To ensure the safety of imported foods and related products, Article 27 of Japan's Food Sanitation Law obliges importers of foods and products “for sale or for use in business,” to submit import notification to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Accordingly, a prescribed form must be submitted to an MHLW Quarantine Station, where government inspectors carry out document examination and inspection to determine whether the foods and products comply with the Food Sanitation Law.

Typically, the importer obtains information, such as ingredients and manufacturing process, from the exporter and submits the required “Import Notification of Foods” document to the MHLW or Japan Customs. 


Import Notification Exemptions

Products not intended for public consumption by an unspecified number of people may be eligible for exemption so long as the weight of each shipment is less than 10 kg including packaging.

For many products, especially retail-oriented processed products, sample shipments can be relatively fast and simple. Generally, products can be exempted from the “Import Notification of Foods” required by Japan’s Food Sanitation Law if they are for:

  • Sampling and not for sale or distribution,
  • Display purpose only at an exhibition (not for tasting), or
  • Research

FSA advises that U.S. suppliers should state in the shipping documents that, “Contained food samples are neither for sale nor for distribution to unspecified people” or “Product is only for [one of the aforementioned examples].” 


Duty & Tax Exemption

Many products that are not for sale and/or commercial use only are exempted and may enter customs duty and consumption tax (8% for food) free if:

  • The product price (cost), freight and insurance (CIF) value is less than JPY10,000 (about $95 USD), and
  • The total weight (including packaging) is less than 10kg.

FAS advises that regarding the value threshold, exporters should pay close attention to the exchange rate, which is subject to fluctuation. 


Why It Matters

Japan is the third-largest market for U.S. consumer food products (after Canada and Mexico) in addition to being the 3rd largest U.S. export market for processed foods, totaling nearly $2.9 billion in 2018.

While the helpful information provided by FAS was directed at U.S. exporters, it is equally valid to Canadian firms exporting food or food products to Japan.

As of 2018, Canada supplied over $2 billion in processed food and beverages to the Japanese market, which also represents the country’s third-largest market for this category. 


Need More Information?

Should you have any questions about this issue, or other matters about exporting food products overseas, don’t hesitate to contact one of our knowledgeable trade experts.

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