Beyond Milk #3: Shelf Sweep

What plant-based meat products are available in Japan?

Hello Market Shakers, 

Time to hit the stores and take a peek at what is available on the Japanese market. 

Like in our Redefining Meat series, you’ll notice right away that soy is king in Japan. There are plenty of soy milk manufacturers, and it gets the largest share of the plant-based market. However, store shelves are opening up to more variety, starting with almond milk, oat, and macadamia.

Summary of this edition

  • Soy milk everywhere

  • Almond milk built a strong presence in Japan.

  • Oat milk is making its way to Japanese retail.

  • What else can you find on the Japanese market?

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Soy milk everywhere

Unflavored, flavored, organic or not, soy milk is everywhere on shelves, from the one-liter pack to the typical 200 ml Tetra Pak. You can even purchase soy milk from vending machines. With many players at home, it isn’t surprising to hear domestic manufacturers dominate the Japanese market.

Kikkoman is leading with over 50% of the market share and an extensive portfolio of products under different flavors and formats. Marusan, in the soy milk business since 1980, is number two on the podium with about 20% of the market share. 

Interestingly, the third player with a little under 10% of the market is the Nagoya-based company Sujahta. This company started its business in the 40s with a milk-based product named Sujahta, a direct reference to Buddhism’s milkmaid character. Today, they produce a wide range of food and beverage products, including soy milk. On their website, they promote non-dairy recipes. 

Pokka Sapporo and Otsuka Pharmaceutical (the company behind Soysh, sparkling soy water) and private brands of supermarket chains such as Aeon’s Top Value occupy the rest of the market. 

There are a few imported brands, starting with European number one organic soy milk Provamel (Alpro). Provamel is sold primarily on e-commerce platforms (Amazon, Rakuten, Lohaco) and Bio C’Bon supermarkets and limitedly in some international stores like National Azabu in Tokyo. The company has obtained the Japanese Agricultural Standard certification. 

Netherlandish Isola Bio has also obtained the JAS label and is available at Aeon affiliated stores: Aeon supermarkets, Daiei, Kohyo, Maxvalu in some areas, and Peacock stores.

Almond milk built a strong presence in Japan.

Almond milk landed in Japan in 2013, when US brand Almond Breeze made its entry on the market. The same year Ezaki Glico successfully test-marketed their Almond Kouka over the summer before an official launch in April 2014. The media sniffed a growing trend and spread the word about a potential ‘third milk’ becoming a hit after the cow and soy milk. This market has grown steadily year after year, and almond milk gained a stable spot on shelves. The Starbucks chain introduced almond milk on its standard menu in March 2020, and the pandemic further supported its market expansion.

Today, you can find several players on the market, starting with the powerful Ezaki Glico group and its Almond Kouka series. As the pioneer in this market, they’ve established a well-recognized brand with an impressive line-up of products with actress Hana Matsushima as brand ambassador. 

In March 2020, they renewed ‘Tasty,’ a creamier version of their Almond Kouka, and added a coffee variation. Japanese consumers tend to use almond milk as a replacement for milk with their coffee.

US Blue Diamond’s Almond breeze reached the Japanese market through a partnership with Japanese licensee partner Pokka Sapporo. In early 2020, they released a 180 ml canned version of Almond Breeze, sold within the Pokka Sapporo’s vending machine network, at Natural Lawson’s convenience store and significant retailer Aeon. A few months later, they released a lighter almond milk version packaged in a 500 ml pet bottle. 

Marusan, Japan’s number 2 soy milk manufacturer, also took an interest in the almond milk market in 2019. They released their "Everyday delicious roasted almond milk" series on September 1st, 2019. The company also teamed up with the organic restaurant chain Tanita Cafe (under the international Tanita Corporation’s umbrella) to develop JAS-certified almond milk with no sugar, flavors, coloring preservatives. 

Dairy manufacturer Tsukuba Dairy ventured into this market in 2016, with a line-up of ‘Rich Almond Milk,’ and paste and powder for the foodservice industry. Consumers can buy their products on the online store and e-commerce websites, at international supermarket Kaldi, upscale Kinokunia supermarket chain, and Lawson convenience stores

Another dairy company, Kyushu Nyugyo, has been selling Almond milk since April 2019. They’re provided one-liter Tetra Pak and sell in bulk on their online store. Among other minor domestic figures on the market, Aeon’s private brand Top Value launched an almond milk series in March 2018. 

Which foreign almond milk brands are available in Japan?

The Japanese market counts a few imported brands, mostly bought online or upscale, international, and organic supermarkets. 

Oat milk is making its way to Japanese retail.

Oat milk is still a bit of an outsider in Japan, but its popularity is growing. Its entry on the market was relatively discreet, with a handful of imported brands starting around 2018:

  • Provamel, imported by Mie Project

  • EcoMil, which can be founded at National Azabu supermarket

  • The Bridge, which lists Japanese sellers (12) on its website and has obtained the JAS certification

Alpro

In April 2020, Danone launched Alpro and put oat milk under the spotlight in Japan. Alpro is currently sold online and within the network of 34 major Japanese retailers, counting Aeon, Olympic, Summit, Daiei, Queen Isetan.

We’ll get back to Alpro’s launch in our next issue, an interview with Marcio Fukuda, Marketing Manager at Danone.

Oatly

In October 2020, Oatly announced its landing in Japan for early 2021 with three products and two formats (one-liter and 200 ml). Their product is currently sold on e-commerce platforms such as Amazon. 

Marusan

In January 2021, Japanese company Marusan announced its first oat milk brand in March. 

There are imported products on the Japanese market, but no locally made oat milk at the moment. Marusan believes the market size will soon outgrow the almond milk market and hopes to stay ahead of the race by establishing a solid local brand. 

Coca-Cola

At the end of March 2021, Coca-Cola (Japan) announced Go-good, its first oat milk, in 13 prefectures (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Yamanashi, Shizuoka, Niigata, Aichi, Gifu, Mie). They came up with three flavors (plain, rich, and cafe latte) and two formats (200 ml, 1L), hoping to seduce Japanese consumers with a cute sloth on the packaging. The messaging is clear, Go-good is about enjoying meals and break time slowly. 

Minor Figures

The British-based plant-based and carbon-neutral company Minor Figures has obtained the JAS label and is available in Japan since April 2020 on e-commerce sites (Amazon, Rakuten, Yahoo) through the distributor Wakashou Co. The coffee chain Brooklyn Roasting Company also offers Minor Figures’ oat milk as a milk substitute at some of their stores. Minor Figures is available at some smaller coffee shops and specialty stores (Little Darling Coffee Roaster, Kashinoki Coffee, Equip Plas).

OATme

OATme is a foreign brand launched by First Step Japan. While the oat is currently imported, the milk is locally made. First Step Japan intends to produce its oat in Japan shortly.

We’ll get back to OATme in a couple of weeks, with an interview with Daniel Kwintner, designer of OATme’s packaging.

Other brands:

What else can consumers thirsty for plant-based options find on the Japanese market?

The trio soy, almond, and oat are on the podium, but more options are available to consumers! 

Rice milk 

Surprisingly, rice milk doesn’t appear to be making much noise in Japan. We could spot few brands, most of which are available online or at organic and specialized stores. 

  • Fukumitsuya Sake Brewery launched a premium rice milk in 2017, primarily targeting consumers with food allergies that can’t drink cow or soy milk. Consumers can buy their brand directly from their online shops or on e-commerce sites. 

  • In May 2020, Bio C’Bon organic supermarket chain and some selected Aeon stores started carrying imported Isola Bio Rice milk.

  • The Bridge’s organic rice milk 

  • The Italian company Mr.Bio Food developed an organic Plant-Based Drink made with BioSuRice (sprouted brown rice) (e-commerce sites) 

  • US company Dream’s Organic Rice Drink (e-commerce sites) 

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is a staple in some Asian countries and a key ingredient to Thai and Indian cuisine. As such, canned coconut milk and concentrated milk are readily available in Japan. You can find brands such as Thai manufacturer Chaokoh and Dynaworth International (CIVGIS), Singaporean Kara and Ayam, Australian Rainforest Herbs, Sri Lankan Cocomi, an organic coconut farm. But coconut milk is not necessarily viewed as a beverage and milk substitute for the majority of consumers. As such, coconut milk drink products in Tetra Pak or bottles are less visible in-store. 

In 2017, Japanese confectionery manufacturer Bourbon announced the launch of a coconut milk series of food and beverage products, starting with regular coconut milk. In 2018, they released a coffee flavor, and in March 2020, an almond flavor. These products contain animal ingredients. 

Isola Bio’s rice and coconut milk has been available in Japan since April 2020 and sold at Bio C’Bon organic supermarket stores and e-commerce sites. 

Macadamia nut milk

In August 2020, soy manufacturer Kikkoman announced two macadamia milk (original, sugar-free) for September. They noted plant-based milk was trending with Japanese consumers in the past few years and believe the creamy, nutty flavor of macadamia nuts can capture consumers’ attention. 

Pistachio & walnut milk

In Japan, only the Thai brand 137 degrees is available. Pistachio and walnut milk have been imported by the Haruna group since 2017 and are sold online and limitedly in some stores (Natural Lawson, National Azabu). 

Barley

Bio C’Bon and Aeon supermarkets sell Isola Bio’s barley milk since May 2020.

Hemp

EcoMil’s hemp milk is available in Japan since fall 2015. However, the product is no longer available in online stores and can be purchased at a few sales points, such as National Azabu supermarket.

Sesame milk 

In Japan, sesame seeds and oil are commonly used for cooking, and sesame is a frequent flavor for yogurt, ice cream, and confectionery. However, there’s currently no sesame milk available on the market. In 2020, the Japanese company Busco Food launched a series but called it quit very quickly. 

That’s all, folks!

You now have a good idea of the products and brands that are slowly getting Japanese consumers thirsty for more. Alpro’s entry into the Japanese market raised attention, and in 2021, we’ll see more products launch in Japan. 

Next week, we’ll share our discussion with Marcio Fukuda, Marketing Manager at Danone, about Alpro’s landing on the Japanese market. 

Made with ❤️ by GourmetPro - Food & Beverage experts in Japan.


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