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Consumers' Sound Bites: Uplifting Upcycling #3
Gain the freshest insights into what real Japanese consumers think about upcycled foods and drinks.
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Happy Tuesday Market Shakers. Today we bring you insider insights from consumers in Japan about their attitudes to upcycled food and beverage.
Summary of today’s post:
Summary of existing data - consumers don’t know upcycled
Consumer awareness of upcycled F&B is low, but the desire to reduce food waste is growing.
Exploring noise surrounding upcycled F&B - the volume’s turning up
Companies and government organizations are starting to promote upcycled F&B products in Japan.
Consumer Interviews - Everyone’s hungry to try upcycled foods
Sympathy for reducing waste had our interviewees craving to sample upcycled products.
Market Shake’s Consumer Survey - our exclusive insights on upcycling in Japan
The internet’s only free market research data on Japanese consumer awareness of upcycled F&B, in English.
Existing Market Data on Upcycled Food and Beverage
Consumers are unaware of upcycled foods but companies show commitment
Upcycled food and beverage is an emerging category in Japan. In general, awareness about it amongst Japanese consumers is low. There are also limited data points about the size of the market in Japan as F&B companies are only beginning to explore the possibilities of upcycling. We gathered together all the consumer research we could find on upcycled F&B and summarized it below.
Sustainable snack delivery startup, snaq.me released market research data in January 2022 on upcycling in general. From over 2,000 consumers, aged 25 ~ 59, surveyed, they found only 12% had heard of upcycling. After being made aware of upcycling, 54.4% of respondents said they would buy upcycled food products, even if the price was higher than products that don’t contain upcycled ingredients. While upcycled foods clearly aren’t on Japanese consumers’ radars yet, the concept has the potential to appeal.
Cookpad, Japan’s number one recipe sharing website, conducted a survey with 139 professionals from the food and beverage industry in 2021 about upcycling. The survey identified that 95% of respondents were interested in developing upcycled products and initiatives. However, respondents noted that currently, they are seeking more inspiration from other companies’ upcycling initiatives, as well as tackling the challenge of making upcycled products that can generate profit.
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Search traffic for upcycled food and beverage is very low in Japan, but data shows increasing interest in the concept of upcycling in general over the last 5 years.
“Food loss”, on the other hand, has over 100,000 Japanese hash-tags on Instagram. This shows that Japanese consumers are waking up to the food waste crisis but are not yet alert to upcycling as a solution.
COVID-19 made Japanese consumers more conscious about food waste
The average consumer might not yet have smelled the potential of food waste, but the mountains of food that were lost when COVID-19 upset food services and supply chains definitely increased awareness about avoiding food loss in japan.
Since 2020, Japanese media has regularly featured stories about restaurants and establishments struggling to find a use for food that they have been unable to sell due to pandemic era lockdowns and demand shocks. Media coverage in Japan is a powerful driver of consumer and company interest in a topic, and unsurprisingly, google trend data has shown increasing interest in “food loss” as a search term during this period.
At the same time, the number of consumers and restaurants using food sharing apps has also been on the rise. TABETE, one such app that connects businesses that have products nearing expiry with consumers and other businesses that have an appetite for it, has attracted a lot of attention. Similarly, WakeAi, a service that lets businesses list their unwanted stock for purchase online, was established in January 2021 to address a growing need for such platforms.
Magazines in Japan such as Forbes and Cosmopolitan have also written features explaining what upcycled food is in the context of pandemic era food loss, and also showcased upcycled products available in Japan.
Organizations are doing their part to promote upcycling
Alongside increasing media coverage, organizations from the government to startups are working to raise consumer awareness about upcycling.
Companies like Oisix Ra Daichi, a mail-order seller of organic and additive-free foods, have been actively promoting upcycled food and beverages in Japan for some time. They operate an active blog, in addition to hosting product pages on their online store that promote upcycled foods.
Sustainable snack-box startup snaq.me very actively promotes upcycling online. In addition, they launched a nationwide campaign in March 2022 to seek out partner producers whose food waste they can upcycle.
As for bigger players, in 2021, Asahi made sure to get the local community involved to help them make upcycled beer. They involved local residents and companies to identify foods with high rates of loss; in this case, bread and coffee, and then used these to make their products. They also made dedicated web pages to promote their efforts which, for a company like Asahi, has a broad reach across investors and consumers.
Governments across Japan are also promoting upcycled foods as a solution to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals. Chiba prefecture, which borders Tokyo, has formed the “Chiba Upcycling Lab”, a partnership between bread makers and brewers that has already resulted in one experimental upcycled beer.
At the national level, the Japanese government features guidelines on their website about upcycled food products. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) has recently developed promotional content spotlighting upcycling activity both overseas and in Japan.
Players in Japan are showing interest in upcycled food and beverage, but what do real consumers think about these kinds of products? Without further ado, let’s dive into the results of our interviews.
We interviewed several consumers out in the wilds of Japan’s concrete jungles. Most people interviewed were unfamiliar with the term upcycling when first asked, confirming what we already knew from available sources. After we explained what upcycling was, all respondents showed interest in upcycled foods because they supported reducing food waste.
We showed our interviewees the following example products and asked their response:
Chips made with upcycled vegetables
Beer made from discarded bread
Granola bars made from spent brewers grain
Jerky made from upcycled fish that couldn’t be sold
Consumers 50s - 60s
Sachiko, 60s, married
Sachiko is a housewife living in Tokyo. She is interested in healthy eating and loves to cook.
She wasn’t aware of food waste as an issue in Japan and also hadn’t heard of upcycling. She was open to the concept, however, after finding similarities to traditional Japanese cooking.
I think upcycling is like traditional Japanese cooking. We have dishes such as kiriboshi-daikon which are simmered in stock. The leftover stock can be used in curries. In the old days, nothing used to go to waste.
I would be interested in trying products made from upcycled ingredients. Especially some chips made with vegetables that would be wasted, for example, because it’s terrible to waste vegetables. Upcycled products would need to be the same price or cheaper than normal ones for me to buy them. As for sustainability, I’d rather support local farmers around Japan and buy products directly from them.
Aya, 50s, married
Aya is married and is an office worker.
I’ve never heard of upcycled products, but the concept is interesting to me. I know there’s a lot of food waste in Japan from the news, so I’d like to support this kind of product.
I would like to try products made with upcycled ingredients. Products made from wasted vegetables or fish that couldn’t be sold are most appealing to me. I don’t know why but grain-based products don’t interest me.
When it comes to price, for Aya, parity with regular products was key.
The price of the product should be the same as non-upcycled products. If so I’d probably choose the upcycled product over a product made with non-upcycled ingredients.
Ken. 50s, married
Ken hasn’t heard of the term upcycling with regards to food and beverage before but was enthusiastic about such products.
It’s a great idea. Japan wastes a lot of food, which is something I’ve noticed from large social events that my company holds, usually in hotels. All that leftover food gets thrown away and it's a terrible waste.
I’d be interested in trying upcycled foods. Especially something like chips or a granola bar. However, I don’t drink so alcohol isn’t interesting to me. I’m also not sure I’d be comfortable eating a meat or fish product that has been upcycled because, even if it was safe, I’d be worried about contamination.
Consumers in their 40s
Satomi, 40s, married
Satomi is an office worker in Tokyo. She tries to follow a vegan diet for health reasons. A big follower of sustainable Instagrammers, she is familiar with upcycled food and beverages.
I’d like to try upcycled food because it’s sustainable and is a valuable solution to food waste. As long as the price was similar to normal products and it was tasty that is.
I really like to try products made with upcycled vegetables because I think it’s a shame that so many “ugly” vegetables are wasted in Japan. A granola bar made with upcycled grain also sounds tasty; I’d try it at least once. I wouldn’t like to try upcycled beer because beer is something I enjoy, so when I buy it I want to be confident it will taste good and I wouldn't be confident about an upcycled beer’s flavour.
Consumers in their 30s
Saori, mid-30s, married
Saori is a doctor based in Tokyo. She makes an effort to eat healthily and, during several years spent in the Netherlands, would often try to eat alternative meats because they were reasonably priced.
Saori hadn’t heard of upcycling but was very interested in the potential to reduce food waste.
I’m most attracted to the jerky made from upcycled fish. I like fish products of course and I’m familiar with cases overseas where a lot of fish can get wasted, like in the Netherlands, so I feel the plight of this product. It also looks like something that would be tasty to me, more so than the other products.
Saori also showed interest in the origins of ingredients in upcycled products, suggesting that products could appeal to consumers by including this information on the packaging.
The idea of upcycling, in general, is attractive to me. For food products, I’d like to see big companies doing more like this, and packaging should clearly show that a product is upcycled, and explain the ingredient origins.
Louis, early 30s, single
Louis is Japanese, and grew up in North America. He hadn’t heard of the term “upcycling” before we spoke to him but was curious about how products would taste.
In general, whether a product contains upcycled ingredients wouldn’t be a deciding factor for me to buy a product. That said, I’m interested in trying some of the products you showed me. Especially the beer and the chips as they have attractive packaging. I’d also be really curious about the fish jerky because it’s novel to see that kind of product in Japan and I love jerky.
My image of recycled products is that they should be cheaper than non-recycled ones, so the same applies to upcycling.
Takeshi, early 30s, single
Takeshi is a freelance designer living in Tokyo. He tries to eat healthily and has experimented with vegetarianism for 6 months, saying going full vegan is still difficult in Japan due to limited offerings. He responded with interest to several products that we showed.
I’d be very interested to try products made from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. The vegetable chips are appealing to me because they give me a natural and healthy image.
Takeshi was most interested in trying granola bars made with upcycled ingredients because it's a product he loves. However, when we asked if he’d choose an upcycled brand over a regular brand, Takeshi said he would probably choose based on a brand he’s familiar with.
I’d probably choose the bar I know tastes good already. If a product made with upcycled ingredients blew up and the taste is supposed to be great, then sure, I’d choose the upcycled product.
Takeshi was least interested in trying products that we showed him made with upcycled fish.
The image of a fish product is like, fish heads and scraps. If the product is made with fish that simply couldn’t be sold, then I’d be okay with it, but that would have to really be made clear.
Takeshi said he would be willing to pay a little extra for an upcycled product, but at a higher price, he’d probably purchase it every other week as a treat.
Consumers in their 20s
Nicole, late 20s, single
Nicole works in IT in Tokyo. She doesn’t follow any specific diets and tries to eat healthily as much as possible. Nicole hadn’t heard of the term upcycling before.
“I’ve seen a lot of food get leftover in convenience stores in Japan, so I’m aware of some food waste. Its a great idea to use edible food that would be wasted to make new products!”
Nicole was interested in trying upcycled products, especially those made from vegetables. She was very interested in an upcycled granola bar which is a product she regularly eats. Nicole was less interested in upcycled beer, however.
I’m not a big beer drinker so I’m not so interested in a beer made from upcycled bread. I’d be curious to try it once to see if there’s a big difference in taste.
For Nicole, the most important factor for an upcycled product was taste, with price being secondary.
The product has to taste good, at least as good as a product that doesn’t use upcycled ingredients, otherwise I wouldn’t try it. If it tasted good, I also wouldn’t mind paying a higher price for it as the price of food products aren’t very high to begin with, so a few hundred yen more for an upcycled product would be acceptable for me.
Risako, 20s, single
Risako is a food importer living in Tokyo. She had not heard of upcycling but was very interested in the topic because she has experience with food waste problems.
Upcycled food is very interesting. I’d love to try some products.
Risako showed interest in upcycled beer and upcycled fish jerky.
Beer made from upccyled bread is really appealing to me because we don’t have so many products with interesting ingredients in Japan. Likewise, the upcycled fish jerky looks tasty to me.
She also suggested that upcycled products should be clearly labelled as such to appeal to consumers.
I’d like these kinds of products to have some kind of logo-mark showing that the product contains upcycled ingredients. It would be appealing to consumers I think. Also, upcycled products should be lower priced than non-upcycled products, because they use ingredients that would have been wasted.
Our interviewees showed enthusiasm for trying upcycled food and beverage products, connecting strongly with the aim of reducing food waste.
From a range of products introduced to interviewees, consumers in their 30s and below showed strong interest in beer made with upcycled ingredients. Consumers over the age of 30 seemed to favour upcycled vegetable chips. Interestingly, jerky made from upcycled fish had a marmite effect on interviewees; 50% really didn’t like the idea of an upcycled seafood product, but 50% were excited by a product that “looked really tasty”.
Regardless of preference for different types of products, all interviewees said “good taste” was their number one priority for trying an upcycled product.
Finally, we found that most interviewees were price sensitive, wanting the product to be similarly priced to regular products. Several interviewees expected upcycled products to be cheaper because they are made from “waste” ingredients. We also saw a desire for upcycled products to be clearly advertised as such as an appeal point for consumers.
Hungry for more?
From researching this newsletter, we realized just how few data points there are for upcycled food and beverage. There was close to zero information about what Japanese consumers think about upcycled food and beverage. Without it, how can innovators find inspiration or grow to capture the fresh opportunities in this important space?
So, we conducted our own survey with over 60 Japanese consumers; delving deep down into what they think about upcycled food and beverage. We summarized the results into 5 easy to read infographics bursting with inspiring insights.
Access our premium market research, for free, from this link:
See you next Tuesday!
Thanks for reading everyone! Today we saw that consumers are intrigued by upcycled food and beverage, but what kinds of products are actually available for them to buy in Japan right now?
The answer awaits in next week’s newsletter when we’ll be journeying around Japanese supermarkets in search of upcycling.
Uplifting Upcycling Chapters
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