Foodservice demand for fresh U.S. tomatoes in Japan is on the rise, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

Most Japanese tomatoes are unsuitable for use in burgers and sandwiches because of their cost and high gel content, according to Fresh Tomato for Food Service Industry 2011, a June 30 report from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

Demand for U.S. tomatoes is so great, the Fresno-based California Tomato Farmers cooperative opened an office in Japan in April.

More and more fast-food outlets and other restaurants that use fresh sliced tomatoes are opening in Japan, but the country’s annual tomato production fell by 15% from 2000 to 2010, according to the USDA.

As a result, fresh tomato shortages are common, particularly during winter.

In addition, about 95% of tomatoes grown in Japan wind up at retail. Japanese tomatoes, most of which are grown in greenhouses, tend to have high gel and brix contents.

As a result, they don’t slice well and are too expensive for many foodservice accounts. The heavy gel content makes for soggy sandwiches, according to the report. In addition, high-brix tomatoes spoil faster.

Japanese domestic tomato production could decline further due to aftereffects of the March 2011 tsunami, according to the report. Production in the Tohoku region in particular will likely fall.

Japan is the third-largest export market for U.S. tomatoes, after Canada and Mexico. About 1.7 million metric tons were exported in 2010.