10-minute meals: NPD in Japan increasingly dominated by convenience
Since February 11, House Foods has launched four new retort items, namely curry chicken and pork, ginger and chili flavoured tofu.
Similarly, Ajinomoto’s latest list of new launches also showcased retort food, including chicken breast meat that could be cooked within five minutes.
Others such as Asahi had announced the plan to ramp up its production of freeze-dried food.
In response to queries from FoodNavigator-Asia, a spokesman from House Foods said that the amount of cooking time, ease of preparation, and product packaging were key in attracting Japanese consumers.
For instance, the cooking time required should not exceed 10 minutes, while the product packaging would need to illustrate the preparation steps.
The spokesman said that housewives formed the majority of the consumers, while the younger generation would “buy lunch boxes and deli, or eat at a restaurant” if they were looking for convenient options.
While convenience was an attractive selling point, he stressed that consumers also expected the product to be tasty, as individuals who do not have much cooking experience “are still expected to be able to cook well”.
“It is thus important to incorporate spice and seasoning blending techniques (in the making of convenience food)…(Cooking convenience food) also makes sure that the taste quality is constant regardless of who the cook is.”
As for Asahi Group Foods, it announced last month its plan to increase its production of freeze-dried food – one of its key focus since acquiring Amano Jitsugyo, Japan’s largest maker of freeze-dried products in 2008.
In the next three years, it will inject JPY$12.8bn (US$115m) into its food business, and JPY$2.7bn (US$24m) would be dedicated to the production of freeze dried food. With the investment, the production volume is expected to be 1.3 times higher than that of last year, according to a spokesman.
At present, more than 200 Japanese foods are available in the freeze-dried form, including miso soup, curry and readily-made pasta.
Similar to the concept of instant cup noodles, freeze dried food could be consumed by mixing the ingredients with hot water.
A concept that took shape during the World War II, freeze dried food is gaining greater popularly as more consumers seek for convenient options.
Convenience food is an engine of growth for most food companies, and sales had grown as much as 25% for some of the firms.
For Asahi, freeze-dried products contributed about JPY$13.2bn (US$119m) of sales last year, which was about 25% higher than that of 2017.
In the case of freeze dried miso soup, new product launches and active product promotion had led to a 12% increase in sales to reach JPY$5.1bn (US$45.6m) last year.
This year, it is aiming for another 12% growth for the sales of freeze dried miso soup.
"The big driving factor in this year is that we are planning to relaunch reduced salt miso soup and we will also enhance the promotion regarding freeze-dried miso soup, which is our key product," the spokesman said.
Overall, Asahi produced 270 million packets of convenience food last year and it hopes to hit a production rate of 360 million packets by 2021.
As for House Foods, the spokesman said that the sales of retort curry products rose from JPY$13.8bn (US$124m) to JPY$15.2bn (US$137m) between FY2016/2017 to FY2017/2018.