Amino acid adaptations: Ajinomoto targets alternative proteins and frozen foods growth after leadership shake-up
Ajinomoto elected its new President and CEO Taro Fujie into office in January this year, and recently released its first annual report under his leadership, renamed from its traditional ‘integrated report’ into the ‘ASV Report’, with ASV representing the firm’s sustainability and growth strategy ‘The Ajinomoto Group Creating Shared Value’.
In this report, the firm laid out its medium-to-long-term strategy for sustainable growth and business transformation, in particular a vision of moving from its traditional ingredients focus to higher-value products and sectors.
“The business model transformation that the Ajinomoto Group has implemented over the past decade has [seen a] shift in focus from the commodity business of amino acid materials to high-profit businesses,” Ajinomoto Chief Innovation Officer and EVP Hiroshi Shiragami said.
“We are also anticipating strong growth in the market for meat alternative products and have begun developing cultivated meat and plant-based meat alternative products [in preparation for this including] new technologies that will broaden our business providing products with nutritional value and deliciousness.
“In addition, we have invested in startups DAIZ Inc. and SuperMeat the Essence of Meat Ltd. of Israel to build an ecosystem for developing and commercialising unique technologies for cultivated meats and low environmental impact protein.”
Ajionomoto’s greatest asset is its deep research and understanding of amino acids, and the firm believes that this is an area crucial to the development of alternative proteins given that from a chemical perspective amino acids are after all the building blocks of all proteins.
“One way we are looking into technology innovation for new food creation is to make amino acids and consequently proteins from carbon dioxide – [what could eventually be truly] green amino acids and green proteins,” he added.
“There is also the option to upgrade existing alternatives, such as making plant-based meats tastier using our Deliciousness Technologies and supplementing these with amino acids; or using growth factors and amino acids to boost the productivity of cultured meat production and lower costs, which is what we are working on with SuperMeat.”
Overall, Ajinomoto is looking to further innovate products to utilize the nutritional and physiological functions of amino acids and grow these at a fast pace, as the company has set a target of doubling these innovations by FY2030 from an FY2020 baseline.
Frozen foods to be grown too
Although Ajinomoto is most widely known for its work with amino acids and seasonings, the firm also has multiple other portfolios from ingredients to healthcare to electronics – and within the food sector, it also has various frozen food products in the market especially in Japan.
“The home-consumption market in Japan saw another increase again in FY2021 despite a trend toward recovery [from the COVID-19 pandemic], whereas the food service industry remained sluggish – as such it is anticipated that in FY2022, the home-consumption market will continue to grow,” said Shiragami.
“Due to this increase in eat-at-home opportunities, we anticipate a further increase in the home-consumption market in demand for individual diets and easy-to-prepare, time-saving foods and in health/nutrition needs with an emphasis on nutritional balance, [hence] frozen foods are expected to do well.
“We plan to increase the sales of these by concentrating on high-value-added products [where] these not only offer the basic values of deliciousness, easy-to-prepare, and affordable pricing but also meet personal needs such as salt reduction and anti-allergenicity – but we do also expect to increase the unit price moving forward.”
The firm also believes it needs to strengthen its presence in digitalised modern retail and shopping channels despite already being well-established in supermarkets, in order to keep up with the times and dynamic market situation.
“To cope with the wildly changing market environment, in addition to existing channels, we will also strengthen efforts in growing channels such as e-commerce, delivery, and takeout where demand is growing,” he added.