Caring Confectionery #2: Consumers' Sound Bites
Are Japanese consumers into plant-based confectionery? Maybe not.
Hello Market Shakers,
Here comes our monthly consumer intelligence report, based on interviews conducted with Japanese consumers.
In our previous issue of Caring Confectionery we talked about the plant-based confectionery current. In Japan, the market is a niche, and our consumers’ feedback is compelling. Japan isn’t there yet.
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In Japan, plant-based confectionery is still in the margins
Innovation and product launches are accelerating in the United Kingdom, Germany, or the United States, carried by growing demand from these markets. Japan, however, feels light years away from this boom happening in the plant-based confectionery sector. Plant-based sweets are not on mainstream consumers’ radar.
In our chat with Gizem Sakamaki two weeks ago, we talked about the slow development of veganism in Japan and the low demand, at least for now, for plant-based products. Last year, the industry experienced an acceleration, notably with meat and dairy alts. The plant-based confectionery sector, however, is still premature. The minority of vegans will support plant-based sweets because they support their cause, but capturing mainstream consumers requires a more extensive spread of the overall plant-based industry.
We also reached out to Duco Delgorge, CEO of Joft, an import agency facilitating international food producers to build long-term success in Japan. Duco confirmed our feeling that in Japan, plant-based confectionery isn't mainstream.
We interviewed consumers about plant-based and vegan confectionery, but with no luck. They did not understand the category and were unsure of its value when they did. Japanese consumers do not perceive sweets as a need—it’s an extra in their diet.
That being said, the overall confectionery market is steadily growing in Japan. But what’s trending, at the moment, is the sugarless or sugar-free sector and products presenting added nutritional value—more fiber, protein, and health claims.
We also evoked in our first week that traditional sweets, particularly the wagashi, are already ‘accidentally’ vegan. Older consumers tend to purchase standard products, and wagashi is going through a renaissance carried by innovation aimed at younger generations.
Several consumers we spoke with mentioned that they like okara-based products. Okara is a traditional soy fiber consisting of the leftover pulp after filtering soybeans to produce soy milk and tofu. It’s an ingredient used for vegetarian cuisine. Okara seems to have gained some popularity recently, both with the food industry and as an ingredient for cooking at home.
Japanese consumers in their 60-70s
Yuriko, 70s, married
Yuriko’s favorite cookie brand is Locabo, which stands for “Low Carb.” Their products are based on nuts. She likes the sugar-free chocolate from Denroku. Among other indulgences, Yuriko buys Leafy, a chocolate-coated pie from Morinaga, and the classic Bisuko, a cream sandwich biscuit from Glico in production since 1933.
Japanese consumers in their 40s-50s
Megumi, 50s, single
Aki, 50s, married
In his young days, Aki ate various kinds of gummy candies. Today, he prioritizes buying sugar-free products and is okay with artificial sweeteners. However, Aki has never seen or tried vegan sweets. He would be curious to give them a try.
Michika, 40s, single
Michika is aware of the plant-based trend, while not too much into confectionery. She’s more interested in what’s new in the foodservice industry.
Japanese consumers in their 20s-30s
We struggled to find older consumers to open up about plant-based confectionery and what are their thoughts. However, younger generations seemed more open and interested in the subject. This leads us to expand the interview and gather more information for the 20s-30s age range.
Yusuke, 33, single
When asked about plant-based confectionery, Yusuke thinks of Japanese traditional sweets such as warabi-mochi, kanten [agar], yokan [red bean jelly], neri-kiri [a type of wagashi]. Their recipes do not use animal ingredients. Chinese sweets also came to his mind, such as Annin tofu [almond pudding] and tapioca.
Yusuke does not pick products based on plant-based or vegan promotion. For him, it’s challenging to grasp the concepts behind and voluntarily seek food based on them.
Yuta, 31, single
At first, Yuta did not understand what plant-based food and confectionary are. After a few explanations, he was surprised and told us this was the first time hearing about such food.
Does Yuta miss eat cookies and candies? Not really.
We indicated that these products are plant-based confectionery. Like Yusuke earlier, Yuta felt that unless you knew the recipe, you wouldn’t guess okara cookies are made of soy and do not contain animal ingredients. They taste the same as regular biscuits and cookies.
The challenge for Yuta is that finding okara-based products in his area, a suburb of Tokyo is not accessible. He cannot purchase them from his regular supermarket.
We showed Yuta Gateaux de Voyage’s Las Olas plant-based line-up.
Next, we introduced the vegan gummy candy Katjes and asked Yuta what he thinks of them. He first thought Katjes was an American brand and got pleasantly surprised to hear it’s German.
Haruka, 20s, single
Haruka feels the issue with plant-based products is that it’s hard for consumers to find or recognize them. The problem goes actually beyond vegan or vegetarian labeling and involves the whole food industry.
Aya, 20s, single
Aya tries to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. When possible, she picks a vegan option with her food and drinks.
That’s all, folks!
Sometimes, it’s what’s not there that matters. Our interviewees’ reactions were saying a lot about how niche plant-based confectionery is in Japan. An observation shared by Sho Yoshida, brand manager of Las Olas at Gateaux de Voyage, in our upcoming issue, Caring Confection #4.
Next week, we’ll have a look at what’s on shelves in Japan, with some in-store pictures.
Market Shake is brought to you by GourmetPro - Food & Beverage experts in Japan.
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