Japan’s Yamaki to make high-grade dried bonito in Maldives

Katsuro Kido, director and senior executive corporate officer of Yamaki Co., poses with some of company’s products after an interview with NNA in Tokyo on Sept. 25, 2019.

TOKYO, NNA – Japanese stock and seasoning maker Yamaki Co. will produce specialty, high-value dried bonito, an ocean fish related to the tuna, in the Maldives after acquiring a local partner manufacturer and on the way to stronger sales overseas.

The Japanese firm has bought a 99.9 percent stake in Yours Maldivian Addu Katsuobushi Pvt. Ltd. and plans to make “specialty goods” by processing bonito taken from the country’s surrounding Indian Ocean, said Katsuro Kido, director and senior executive corporate officer of Yamaki.

Since its 2013 establishment, the local firm has operated a dried bonito plant on Addu Atoll, the southernmost part of Maldives, some 540 kilometers from the capital Male. The equatorial sea there is one of the world’s best places to catch bonito because of high ocean temperatures throughout the year.

Warm water means fish are relatively lean, and fattier ones would leave a sour flavor in Japanese stock, Kido said in an interview with NNA in Tokyo on Sept. 25. Kido rates bonito from the Maldives as “the world’s best raw materials” for the dried product. He cited a fragrant taste and slight fishy smell.

The Maldives bans fishing with a round haul net to protect fisheries, so bonito can be caught only by pole-and-line fishing. The local manufacturer gets its fish directly from local fishermen, according to Yamaki.

Short distances in the Maldives makes it possible to get a fish to land within a couple of hours after catching it, keeping it fresh compared to a transport time of two or three days in the waters near Japan.

Yamaki and Yours Maldivian Addu Katsuobushi have been partners more than six years. At the beginning, Yamaki abandoned a plan to take a stake in the local firm due to the country’s strict restrictions on foreign investment.

(Photo courtesy of Yamaki)

But because Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has expressed support since taking office last year for foreign investment, Yamaki applied for permission to turn its local partner into a subsidiary and bought the stake in May. Yamaki also replaced three of the four Maldivian directors with Japanese board members, said Kido, who is one of the three.

High quality aside, bonito catches in the Maldives are low on quantity. For that reason, Yamaki plans to make high-grade products targeting posh Japanese restaurants, Kido said. “In the not-so-distant future, we hope to create ‘specialty goods’ made from bonito from the Maldives and bring them out,” he said.

Yamaki also has wholly owned subsidiaries in China, South Korea and the United States, along with an affiliate in Indonesia. The company hopes to expand sales overseas by selling to individual consumers and Japanese restaurants.

In the business year through March 2019, the company registered about 46 billion yen ($423 million) in sales. Yamaki aims to raise the overseas portion to 10 percent without a timeframe. That percentage is now in the low single digits.

The company regards China, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States as key overseas markets. Now it’s also sighting Southeast Asia, where it anticipates more demand for bonito soup stock powder and dried bonito flakes. The region is growing fast economically and seeing a rapid increase in the number of Japanese restaurants, Tsutomu Wada, general manager of Yamaki’s Overseas Business Department, said.

Growth in foreign visitors to Japan and the reputation of Japanese-style meals as healthy food are also expected to benefit overseas sales, Wada said.

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