The recent HI Japan exhibition and conference in Tokyo heard that superfood products could now be compared alongside dietary supplements and traditional functional foods as the third strand of the country’s health foods market.
According to Hisaaki Kato, president of Smooth Link and formerly DSM’s Japan boss, the top five superfood ingredients in Japan are acai, blueberries, chia seeds, coconut oil and spirulina.
He said acai was now well-known among many consumers for its weight loss and anti-ageing potential, while its high levels of antioxidants made it easy to associate with fighting heart diseases and cancer.
Kato added blueberries were now very well known for the protection they can offer against cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, while chia seeds were becoming popular because of their omega-3 and fibre content, linked to weight loss and detoxing.
Coconut oil, meanwhile, has seen considerable growth in the past couple of years, with many people in Japan being aware of its dementia prevention potential – something that is a hot top in a country with an ageing population.
Finally, Kato said spirulina’s rich protein levels made it popular with consumers across the board, as well as those interested in anti-ageing.
Two newcomer superfoods that are starting to gain traction in Japan are hemp seeds and teff, he said.
The immunity and beauty potential of hemp seeds is making it attractive to a younger market, while teff’s high protein, fibre and iron content means it is becoming popular to control blood sugar and aid weight loss. The fact that is gluten free is an added bonus, he said.
While all seven ingredients have witnessed strong growth in recent years, Kato said it was always important to set them in the context of the wider market and tailor the products they are in to consumer sentiment.
He said it was vital to understand that 44% of all sales in the wider health foods segment were for fatigue recovery, and that 52% of the industry’s sales still came through mail order.
While these figures are likely to have been swayed by the country’s vitamins and minerals market, it does show that consumers have clear demands and experience of shopping through particular channels for products that will provide them with health benefits, Kato said.