Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong hit by nuclear contamination fears plan to cut prices and ask the government to provide safety certificates for food imported from Japan in a bid to stay afloat.
Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant, the city's 600 Japanese restaurants have lost an average 20 per cent in revenue, said Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades.
Yiu Yat-chun of the Saikou Japanese Restaurant in Central said that since the earthquake, sales were down by half as customers knew that they mostly imported from Japan. 'It is hard to lure people back now. We will probably offer discounts and do some promotions on how safe our food is,' he said. They would also state clearly on the menu where the ingredients came from.
Traces of radiation linked to the nuclear plant have been found in rainwater in the United States and Britain, but officials say the levels are too low to pose any danger to health.
Wong has asked the government to issue certificates for products that have passed radiation tests. He said he received a verbal promise from Centre for Food Safety controller Dr Constance Chan Hon-yee to do so.
He hoped the certificates would be issued to importers to pass down the supply chain. 'Maybe restaurants can post these certificates on their walls,' he said.
Restaurants have already resorted to passing radiation counters over food in a bid to reassure customers it is safe. The government has banned food imports from the five Japanese prefectures most affected by the radiation leaks from the power plant.
Wong, who is on the centre's expert committee on food safety, met Chan and other government officials yesterday to discuss how the spread of radiation in Japan had affected imports of food products.
He said consumer confidence in Japanese food had slumped and revenues dropped by 10 to 50 per cent since the earthquake.
'A lot of work needs to be done before confidence is restored. We need to spread positive messages,' he said.
On Monday, Wong met representatives of about 300 Japanese restaurants - about half of the 600 in the city. He said most owners reported a drop in sales of 20 per cent.
They are thinking of ways to revitalise the cuisine, including newspaper advertisements and more meetings with government officials.
'Many Japanese restaurants do not depend entirely on ingredients imported from Japan, and they want the public to know that,' Wong said. He said individual owners were also considering offering discounts to lure customers back.
Yiu's restaurant used to import most of its ingredients from Japan, but not any more. 'People have lost confidence, especially as the nuclear meltdown seems to be getting more serious day by day and the Japanese government cannot control it. Even if they say the seafood is clean, people will not trust it,' he said.
The restaurant now buys scallops from Canada, shrimps from Russia or Vietnam, salmon from Norway and conches from South Korea or Taiwan, he said.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific said it would suspend eight flights to and from Japan from Friday until April 15 because of falling passenger numbers. Five of the flights serve Tokyo, two Nagoya and the other Osaka.
With the suspensions, there will be four flights a day to Tokyo.
'It is too early to say how long this situation will last and how quickly business will return to normal. We expect several months of weakness with a recovery towards the summer,' said Tom Owen, general manager for revenue management.