A long way to go? A Japanese expert’s take on game changers needed for local consumers to adopt plant-based diet

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

NEXT MEATS says that it is going to take some time before Japanese consumers become more receptive to meat alternatives. ©Getty Images
NEXT MEATS says that it is going to take some time before Japanese consumers become more receptive to meat alternatives. ©Getty Images

Related tags plant-based Meat alternatives Japan vegan

A 'game-changing phenomenon' needs to take place before plant-based could become a strong trend in Japan, according to an industry expert pioneering meat alternatives in the country.

While headquartered in Japan, NEXT MEATS admitted that it is going to take some time before local consumers become more receptive to meat alternatives.

The firm recently introduced​ a new soy protein-based meat alternative named NEXT BEEF 1.0, as well as plant-based versions of foie gras, caviar and truffle butter by its spinoff company Dr. FOODS.

“We started with B2C in Japan, but it didn’t go so well. That is why we are focusing on B2B right now. We are targeting restaurants and hotels, and unflavoured products are doing well because the professional chefs want to cook in their own ways.

“As part of my research, I have travelled to both eastern and western parts of Europe, and Scandinavian countries in the north. I had several meetings with local food distributors and found that they are way more advanced [than Japan]. The US is also obviously ahead of us in terms of plant-based adoption. Realistically speaking, it would probably take 5 to 10 years before Japan catches up with these markets,” ​Mitsuru Anthony Ueno, chief operating officer of NEXT MEATS USA, told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

Based on his past experience in the luxury fashion industry, Ueno cited the example of designer bags and correlated it to the acceptance rate of plant-based meat.

“Let’s say if we import a new handbag from Italy, it’s quite difficult to ignite a trend among general consumers. But once you succeed in doing so, everyone will want to buy the same thing. Unlike the mentality of Europeans or Americans, whereby people don’t really like to have the same thing as others, Japanese are big followers and prefer to be homogeneous.

“If they are carrying or wearing the same thing as the person next to them, they feel more secure. And if you look at Japanese fashion magazines, no matter which publication you pick up, you can find similar trends because the trend-setting in Japan is almost one-directional.”

As such, Ueno believes that a game-changing phenomenon needs to take place before plant-based could become a strong trend in the country.

“Something has to click — either a top celebrity in Japan starts openly talking about adopting a vegan diet or some 100 celebrities turning vegan — then it could turn the wheel.”

At the same time, plant-based companies and manufacturers like NEXT MEATS need to work on lowering costs and product prices to improve accessibility.

This would also help increase the presence and availability of vegan and plant-based products in mainstream channels, such as supermarkets.

“When these two factors happen together, then I think something different will happen in Japan,” ​he reiterated.

 

Protein Trends will be a key topic of focus at Growth Asia Summit 2024 – join us in Singapore to learn about market opportunities and glean insights from major industry experts. Find out more here.

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