Cheese Revolution #5: Interview With Terra Foods Founder Ike Nakayama
The story of a vegan entrepreneur in Japan
Hello, Market Shakers!
After embracing veganism ten years ago, he realized Japan lacked alternative options for vegan people. So, he took matters into his own hands. After much trial and error in his kitchen, he came up with a konjac and soy-based meat substitute. Today, Ike Nakayama sells his products online, distributes them to food services providers and retailers and manages a food truck, a cafe, and has new products in mind.
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The lack of vegan options in Japan pushed Ike Nakayama to come up with his own.
Ten years ago, Ike Nakayama embraced veganism but quickly realized that Japan had no options for vegan people. The lack of alternatives drove him to fill the gap by developing his recipes… from his very own kitchen.
So successful in fact that he applied for and obtained a production patent for his konjac-based “T-MEAT”. Based on the same patented technology, he has also developed vegan sausages under the brand name MARUDE Sausage and is currently developing other meat-substitute products. The company also sells other meat-substitute products such as the Marude Chik’n (nuggets & fillet type), Marude Cheese (block cheese), and a tempeh-type product.
Believing in the quality of his meat substitute, Ike Nakayama first started with a food truck business. He rented his first vehicle for a year, going to Farmer’s Markets and local food festivals. To do so, Ike Nakayama needed to obtain authorization from the organizers and obtain the license to sell food, which is prefecture-based.
In parallel, he partnered with a manufacturer in Gumma Prefecture, which helps with product development and manufacturing. While he outsources the production of his sausages there, his minced meat is still handmade from his professional kitchen. Terra Foods has an online shop and also sells products on Amazon.
In September 2020, with two other partners, Ike Nakayama opened the Terra Burger and Bowl Cafe in Daikanyama, an upscale neighborhood of Shibuya Ward, also nicknamed the Brooklyn of Tokyo. Opening in the middle of the pandemic, as Japan went through states of emergency, gave him pause. But life and business eventually have to go on. At his cafe, a large portion of the clientele is vegan or vegetarian, but some come for the experience.
Veganism is still misunderstood in Japan.
With only a tiny portion of the Japanese population vegan, Terra Foods’ target market isn’t limited to vegan consumers but includes mainstream consumers, too.
An approach very similar to Gâteaux de Voyage and EECO, for whom the objective is to provide suitable products for everyone regardless of their diet. In our interviews with these companies, we noticed that they even want to stay away from veganism. They develop and sell 100% plant-based products but would rather have them labeled healthy and plant-based rather than vegan. Because for a long time, veganism was perceived as too extreme by Japanese people.
No wonder then that the mix-up between plant-based and vegan is a common issue in Japan. The lack of a clear label makes things difficult. Vegan consumers rely on word of mouth and the community to fact-check products available on the market. We mentioned multiple times how some products made in Japan are advertised as plant-based but do contain animal ingredients. The industry should embrace transparency to help consumers understand more clearly the difference.
In the tourism industry, however, veganism is very much on the radar of businesses. The plant-based revolution in Japan has been partly fueled by the tourism boom the country experienced in the last decade. In addition, the Olympic Games scheduled for 2020 had notably pushed food manufacturers, restaurants, and hotels to look into providing more plant-based products. Thus, while the pandemic significantly disrupted the industry, the hospitality industry is turned toward the future.
The demand for plant-based cheese is not there yet.
Terra Foods sources its vegan cheese from a large manufacturer and is marketed under the MARUDE Cheese brand name. MARUDE Cheese is one of the rare options on the market, next to Beyond Tofu, Vegetive, and Marin Foods.
Most plant-based cheeses are very good for cooking — some not so much for eating raw because the soy flavor takes over. But melted on toast, pasta, or pizza, they’re good enough to pass for conventional cheese.
However, contrary to overseas markets, the plant-based cheese category in Japan is a niche, and the growth remains uncertain. In the past months, large companies have launched new products and visibly invested in research and development. But if asked, most Japanese consumers are still pretty much unaware of alternatives to conventional cheese.
Sales-wise, Terra Foods didn’t notice a particular craving for its Marude Cheese, at least not now. But the product found its way on vegan blogs and in the community for sure.
The plant-based cheese category is a difficult one. The most popular recipes are based on nuts, notably cashews, which would make any product for retail too expensive due to the production cost. But Ike Nakayama is taking on the challenge to develop its own plant-based cheddar cheese, as the need came up with the success of its Terra Burger and Bowl Cafe.
On top of coming up with a new vegan cheese, Terra Foods has released a 2.0 version of its Marude Sausage and is looking into a vegan chorizo-type as well. Ike Nakayama noted that large companies purchased sample products from Terra Foods, most likely for R&D purposes.
See you next Tuesday!
Next week, we will share a terrific interview with Vera Tinkova, founder and CEO of CheeseThe Queen, a vegan cheese start-up founded in 2017.
Made with ❤️ by GourmetPro - Food & Beverage experts in Japan.
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