For many years now, the EU-Japan Centre and Sicindustria collaborate as Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) partners and both are members of the EEN Agrofood Sector Group.
Sicily is one of the main EU regions for the agrifood sector, with SMEs producing high-quality products with high safety standards, some of which are unique and prize-winners. In addition, this region is one of the key producers in Europe of organic products.
Some Sicilian companies have already strong business ties with Japan, regularly participate in fairs and missions to Japan achieving quite good results, especially in the food & beverage and fashion sectors.
On the other hand, many other companies still need support to learn how to do business with Japan.
For this reason, the EU-Japan Centre and Sicindustria hosted several events in Sicily to help SMEs get ready for this very competitive market.
EU-JAPAN EPA OPPORTUNITIES
An additional important element was the entering into force of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in 2019, and the potential benefits for the agrifood companies interested in exporting to Japan.
Just before the Covid-19 lockdown, Sicindustria hosted a delegation of Japanese producers from Wakayama prefecture and organised a workshop and company visits, in collaboration with the EU-Japan Centre.
Mission to FoodEx Japan was also foreseen involving EU EEN partners' SME clients. However, due to the obstacles set by Covid-19, a virtual matchmaking event - "Sicily2Japan" - was launched instead by the 2 organisations, embracing the new digital trends.
The EU-Japan Centre identified over 250 Japanese companies, importing Italian food & beverage, and invited them to join the virtual matching event.
Even though, E-Commerce as well as the retail market have been doing relatively well, yet most of the Japanese companies seemed to be reluctant to initiate new businesses, and did not proactively increase their products' portfolio in the last couple of months. Consequentially, the main challenge for the Centre's staff was to convince the Japanese about the potential opportunities that this event could bring in the future.
In the meantime, Sicindustria set up the web meeting platform, launched a wide communication campaign to inform Sicilian SMEs about the virtual matching event, and assisted companies in their registration process, ensuring that each of them would have a high quality and attractive profile to promote to the Japanese buyers.
GREAT TURNOUT OF ITALIAN PARTICIPANTS
93 Sicilian SMEs registered to the virtual mission "Sicily2Japan", representing the wide range of very high-quality products, from more traditional to innovative ones.
The size and international experience of the participating companies was quite diverse: from "boutique" companies, which sell limited quantities of top-quality products, to larger and very successful companies, already well developed in many foreign markets.
The EU-Japan Centre managed to convince 17 Japanese buyers to register.
Thanks to the combined efforts between the 2 organisers, 61 meetings were organised, allowing 40 Italian producers to initiate contacts with potential Japanese partners. In addition to this, some companies preferred to communicate by email only (without using the online matching tool).
Some Japanese buyers requested meetings outside the matching platform even after the official end of the event, as a result, bringing even more matching opportunities.
The list of participants is available on this link.
The Sicily2Japan platform will remain visible for more than a year, and the EU-Japan Centre will keep on promoting the catalogue of Sicilian profiles amongst the Japanese buyers, in order to increase the chances of new matches in the future.
On the other hand, Sicindustria will support all new potential negotiations, and will be ready to select new producers, in case of any specific requests from Japanese buyers through the EU-Japan Centre.
UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE FIRST MEETINGS
Most of the Sicilian companies who managed to have meetings appreciated the event and mentioned that they were able to make valuable contacts for future projects.
Even some of the Sicilian companies, which were not booked by any buyer, admitted that Sicily2Japan was a good chance to present their products and create new relations.
The B2B platform was well perceived by the Sicilian companies, as it was a good alternative to physical events and a great opportunity to have first meetings with potential partners without spending time and money on a mission to Japan.
One of the participants, Gandolfo Filippone, a producer of organic herbs, stated: "Thank you once again EEN for the opportunities and support you give us on our way to export".
Licia Guccione, producer of organic almonds, said: "I liked the way we were assisted before, during and after the event. The guide on how to participate in online B2B events was very useful".
Japanese representatives who participated in the matching event expressed positive feedback, and some of them are still in contact with manufactures for further opportunities. Finally, most of them expressed their interest to join similar matching events in the future.