Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia at the recent Fi Asia-China show in Shanghai, General Manager of Department of the Hangzhou Kewpie Corporation Shanghai Branch Kenji Sato told us that the company had a health-age rating table that it uses to make personalized products for every demographic, which it intends to further expand through R&D and a health focus.
“We as a leading food manufacturer want to make sure that people get what they need and there’s something for everyone, hence all of our products are developed following a table that shows products suitable for consumer needs based on their age/health condition,” said Sato.
Kewpie products are developed into four basic overarching categories based on the table: Baby food (Healthy + Baby stage), General foods e.g. mayonnaise, salad sauces (Healthy + Adult stage), Elderly care foods e.g. special RTE meals (Healthy + Elderly stage) and Therapeutic foods (Unhealthy/weak + at any age).
“In addition, our products are also made to meet all consumer demands by splitting into three groupings: Internal (for consumers to directly eat at home), Middle (for consumers to buy and cook at home), and External (for F&B service outlets so consumers can eat outside),” explained Sato.
“Very few companies in Japan have this sort of setup, but at Kewpie we make sure to keep product development in all three groupings balanced.”
The company has its own research facility located in Tokyo as well as in each of its factories across the Asia Pacific region, including China, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.
“The Tokyo research facility is very big, and its main focus is on new product development as well as functionality research,” said Sato.
According to Sato, biochemistry and research is considered one of the six main components of the Kewpie business, where nutrients and other components from eggs are extracted and investigated for their functional properties and potential to be used for new high-value functional food products.
The other five major components of Kewpie are: Main pillar (mayonnaise, salad sauces); Processed food items (Baby food, pasta sauces, canned foods, new health items, etc.), Egg products (packaged fried eggs, boiled eggs, etc.), Fresh foods (salads, potatoes, etc.) and Logistics.
In China, one of the institution’s main research partnerships is with the Shanghai Ocean University (SHOU).
SHOU-Kewpie LAB of Food Science and Technology Investigator Dr Xi Yinci told us that: “Kewpie works very closely with universities such as SHOU in its food functionality research, especially to do with eggs, and I believe that they are one of the leading food companies worldwide in this area.”
Localisation and Health
Based on internal research, Sato emphasized the continued need for localization and customization as consumer lifestyles and habits changed across the ages.
“In China for example, health demands have gone up so we have had to do things like cut the calories by 50%, cut salt content by 50%, or remove the addition of oil to the mayonnaise. It is all based on demand,” he said.
The company is also just starting to launch its functional product range into China in response to this demand.
“Our main target demographic is those with kidney diseases who need to control protein intake – we want to help by introducing our low protein variant of rice so they can get the right amount of protein and remain in control of their diet at the same time,” said Sato.
Similarly in Vietnam where calcium deficiency is an issue, Kewpie has worked with the government in using calcium from egg shells to improve the situation, especially in youths.
Of mayo and salad sauce
Of all its products, Kewpie mayonnaise remains its most well-known and popular item despite the competition, said Sato.
“Kewpie mayonnaise is unique because it uses high quality egg yolk for its high nutritional value,” he said.
“This was developed 100 years ago with the objective of delivering health and nutrients to Japanese consumers who were small in size, and Kewpie hoped to counter this by utilising the nutrition from egg yolks in a more Western food product format.”
That said, Kewpie mayonnaise may be its best-seller across Japan and South East Asia, but in China this is not the case.
“Only about 80% of Chinese consumers know about Kewpie mayonnaise, or some know it but have never eaten it before,” said Sato.
“We are looking to improve this, and it still remains our most popular product here alongside our sesame salad sauce.”
The company’s sesame salad sauce has also achieved ‘extreme popularity’ and is ‘loved by all markets’ over the past few years, he added.