The third of four Simultaneous-Buy-Sell (SBS) tenders for U.S. medium-grain rice scheduled during the Japanese fiscal year, April 2012 to March 2013, was held here Dec. 18. A total of 9,238 tons of U.S. medium-grain rice has been successfully bid during these three tenders -- a dramatic increase over previous years. By comparison, the SBS import volumes for U.S. medium-grain were limited to only 38 tons each year in 2008 and 2009. The SBS tenders allow commercial Japanese trading companies to purchase imported rice for their domestic customers. One more tender is scheduled in early 2013.

U.S. medium-grain has been promoted in Japan as a new type of rice that can be used as an ingredient for various menu items. This concept is novel in Japan, where Japanese varieties of short-grain are consumed as a staple food.

Focused promotional efforts aimed at the Japanese market in recent years have increased awareness of the versatility of U.S. medium-grain. Foodservice operators are recognizing the advantages of using U.S. medium-grain for menu items such as fried rice, curry and risotto. The Bintje restaurant in Tokyo is currently featuring three soup menus using U.S. medium-grain, which the owner says is the only variety that imparts the light texture she prefers in her dishes.

The 2012 crop rice will be arriving this month and a number of foodservice companies will be using it for the first time this year. This increased availability will allow more consumers to try U.S. medium-grain rice.

Japan was the second-largest export market for U.S. rice in 2011 at nearly 376,000 metric tons, valued at $303.4 million.