Despite growing concern about radioactive contamination in Japanese foods, Fuji Group, a leading Japanese restaurant operator, will continue to expand its outlets in the Thai market this year.
Daisaku Tanaka, the group's managing director, said it planned to spend 240 million baht to open 12 new Fuji restaurants, bringing the total to 81 by the end of this year.
Of the new outlets, three have already opened at Tesco Lotus Hat Yai, CentralPlaza Chiang Rai and the Amorini community mall on Rarm Intra Road. Each new branch employs about 50-60 staff. The company also plans to open Fuji restaurants in Australia and Laos this year.
Business is still brisk, with first-quarter sales growth of 10% as planned, he said.
Marketing manager Rawiwan Tanaka confirmed that all foods available at Fuji were safe to consume. It imports between 60% and 70% of its ingredients, of which 40-50% are raw fish.
Fuji sources food from more than 50 countries, including tuna from Tahiti, salmon from Norway, Chile and Scotland, and meat from Australia. Seaweed is imported from a Japanese company that has its manufacturing base in Singapore.
Fuji set up a rice firm called Tana Grain in October 2010 to run a rice mill in Chiang Rai's Phan district. It has contracts with local farmers in the area to plant Japanese rice and supply its mill.
Tana Grain can produce about 1,000 tonnes of Japanese rice per year. The company plans to export packed rice under the Tana Grain brand within the next two years.
Green tea is the only raw material imported from Japan. "But we import it about six months in advance. The latest lot of green tea was imported in December and can last us to the end of this year," said Mrs Rawiwan.
Even so, the tea plantation that supplies Fuji is about 400 kilometres from the damaged nuclear facilities in Fukushima, making it safe for consumption.
The company expects to investigate and certify any green tea shipments in the future to guarantee they are free from radioactive contamination. It is talking with two green tea suppliers in Thailand and China as alternatives.
"We spent three decades establishing ourselves in the Thai market, putting a lot of money and effort in our business. We would never relax about food quality and let our brand be destroyed overnight," she said.
The company will also launch a new menu soon.