Weak Yen Pairs With Love for Sushi in Suzumo’s Push Abroad

Sushi’s global popularity coupled with the yen’s 18 percent decline in the past six months is proving to be a sweet spot for Suzumo Machinery Co., Japan’s biggest maker of automatic sushi chefs.

The company plans to triple overseas sales of the machines to as many as 3,000 units from last fiscal year and is adding production capacity to meet demand, President Ikuya Oneda, 69, said yesterday. Suzumo may start taking payments in dollars, if customers request, as the yen weakens, he said. “A weaker yen will make it easier for us to do business,” Oneda said.

The company’s new line to make the automatic chefs, which shape rice into blocks to serve with fish or other ingredients, will open by about November at its plant in Saitama, north of Tokyo, Oneda said. Orders for the machines are coming from South America, Europe and Asia as global consumption of seafood is expected to increase by as much as 17 percent per person during the next two decades.

“Sushi is becoming popular, not just because of being a healthy choice but also being inexpensive,” Oneda said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo. “Our machines are helping reduce labor costs” for clients, he said.

Suzumo, whose clients include the U.K.’s Yo! Sushi chain, targets to raise sales to 10 billion yen ($104 million) in the “mid-term,” Oneda said, without elaboration. Revenue is forecast at 6.85 billion yen for the 12 months ended March.

Shares of Suzumo rose 4.7 percent, the biggest gain since March 28, to 1,138 yen at close on the Jasdaq market. The stock has climbed 79 percent this year, compared with a 23 percent gain in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average.

‘Sushi Boom’

Suzumo, which has more than 60 percent of the sushi machine market in Japan, plans to double its sales staff for overseas markets to about 16 this fiscal year, Oneda said. The company plans to export its equipment to 100 countries in the 12-month period, up from 64, he said.

The world’s fish consumption may rise to 20 kilograms (44 pounds) per person by 2030 from 17.1 kilograms in 2008, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

“There seems to be a sushi boom everywhere in the globe,” said Makoto Sengoku, a market analyst at Tokai Tokyo Securities Co. in Tokyo. “Suzumo is benefiting from it, as long as the boom continues.”

London Restaurants

In the U.K., there are about 500 Japanese restaurants, up from about 450 in 2011, according to an estimate from Yukiko Takahashi, the general manager of Eat-Japan, a London-based promoter of Japanese food.

“Big sushi take-away chains are doing really well in the U.K.,” said Takahashi. “Every side street has a sushi restaurant in London.”

Lots of sushi take-away restaurants use the rice-making machines produced by Suzumo and others, according to Takahashi.

The company’s machine can produce 3,600 blocks of rice per hour, according to its website. Another type of a machine by the manufacturer can make as many as 400 sushi rolls per hour.

Suzumo developed its first sushi-making equipment in 1981, according to its website. The company, which employs about 260 people, opened an office in Torrance, California, where Toyota Motor Corp.’s U.S. sales unit is also based, in 2006.

The number of Japanese restaurants in the U.S. surged more than 50 percent to 14,129 including 3,963 in California in the five years through 2010, according to the Tokyo-based Japan External Trade Organization.

The company forecast net income of 510 million yen for the 12 months ended March 31, up 41 percent from 361 million yen a year earlier, Suzumo said Feb. 6.

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