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Japan's Nutraceuticals Today

Japan's Nutraceuticals Today

By Paul Yamaguchi


Comparing Japanese and American Dietary Supplement Markets

I frequently compare the differences between the UnitedStates and Japan, since their economies and consumer trends often influence each other. Sometimes the change happens in Japan and it soon effects the US or the opposite can occur. Computer games, animation films and cartoon characters are some consumer trend examples which moved from Japan to the US, while fast food, pop culture, music and movies are US influences affecting Japan today. However, we must realize that the US economy is the biggest global influence and no country can escape its effects.

Two Different Pictures

In our industry, the two countries present quite different pictures. To understand the differences, I compared the 10 top selling dietary supplements (see below) in both countries. The size of the Japanese dietary supplement industry is about half of the United States’. The Japanese population is also about half that of the US. As I compared the lists, what I found was that the Japanese tend to consume dietary supplements for general health or as an aide for maintaining good health. The products are not targeted to any particular health condition. The US list shows a different picture. Each item in the list suggests that they aide specific conditions. For example, US consumers use glucosamine for joint repair or essential fatty acids for cardiovascular health or lutein for eye health, and so on.

This is one key example of the difference between the East and the West. For the Japanese, maintaining total body health is important and we buy products with prevention in mind. In the West, health products are based on cures. If something goes wrong, repair it. The usage of dietary supplements in the US appears to be an extension or an alternative to medicine. In Japan, we don’t think of nutraceuticals as alternative medicine or dietary supplements. The Japanese think of them simply as “foods to assist our general health.”


U.S. Influences in Dietary Supplements

We are seeing US influence in dietary supplements. Sales of lutein, glucosamine and Coenzyme Q 10 are creeping up the best seller list. For example, the popularity of Coenzyme Q 10 is growing rapidly in Japan. Health Industry News (Tokyo) reported that it has been growing in the double digits for the last 3 years and now it’s a $100 million market and is expected to reach $200 million in 2 years. As little as 3 years ago, most consumers had never heard of lutein, and now lutein is a $90 million market. We’ll definitely see more Western influence on Japan in the future.

In the next issue, I’ll compare herbal supplements.


Japan’s top selling nonherbal dietary supplements in 2003

  1. Royal jelly
  2. Dietary fiber
  3. Soy, whey protein
  4. Bifidobacterium
  5. Propolis
  6. Carotene
  7. Yeast
  8. Enzyme
  9. Amino acids
  10. Chitosan

(vitamins, minerals are exempt)

(Source: Health Food Report 2004 (Tokyo)

The US’s top selling nonherbal dietary supplements in 2003

  1. Glucosamine/chondroitin
  2. Essential fatty acids
  3. Coenzyme Q 10
  4. SAM-e
  5. Amino acids
  6. Lutein
  7. Lecithin
  8. DHEA
  9. Alpha lipid acids
  10. Melatonin

(vitamins, minerals are exempt)

(Source: Information Resources Inc (Chicago)

I’ll talk more about the current nutraceutical environment in the next issue.

Stay tuned.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY.

His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports, including Nutraceutical Japan 2003, Nutritional Supplement Japan 2003, Functional Foods and FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) Japan 2003. For details and information on the reports, visit: or contact

Paul at [email protected]

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