Focussing On Food Tech In Japan
Exploring Japan's latest Food Tech Event held by retailer MARUI and what it suggests for food tech more broadly in Japan.
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Happy Tuesday Market Shakers. We’re taking a break from our alt-seafood series today. If your heart is sinking, don’t worry, we have an equally exciting topic. Instead, we’re bringing you a report on Japan’s latest food tech event and how it signals a growing awareness of food and beverage innovation.
This summer (2022), Japanese retailer MARUI is holding a series of Food Tech Events in their Tokyo stores. The events bring together innovative food and beverage products from Japan and abroad for consumers to explore, learn about, and try.
This report explores MARUI’s events in the broader context of food tech in Japan. We also hear directly from MARUI about what inspired the company to support food tech. We have commentary from Donald Roxburgh, who imported and localized Agrain products for the Food Tech Events. Finally, we leave you with our own takeaways from the Food Tech Event.
The Background to Food Tech in Japan
Food tech is the intersection between food and technology. It refers to innovation at every stage of the food value chain. From farming to production, all the way through transportation, distribution, consumption and disposal.
Despite being known for both technology and food, awareness about food tech in Japan is low. Compared to other advanced economies, Japan doesn’t even number in the top 20 when ranking countries by investment in food tech.
Yet, with a food self-sufficiency rate of less than 40% and perilously little land for adequate food production, Japan’s current food supply is not sustainable. Further disruptions to our food system and supply chains could seriously impact the country’s ability to feed its people. Faced with limited resources and unstable supply, Japan needs innovation across its entire food value chain.
Thankfully, food tech activity has been increasing recently. In October 2020, The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF) established the Public-Private Council of Food Tech. The council promotes collaboration on food tech initiatives between the government, academia, and companies. Their off-shoot organization Food Tech Lab works to raise awareness about food tech in Japan.
In addition to government-led initiatives, private companies are also doing their part to invest in food tech. The East Japan Railway Company, for example, opened a “food lab” in 2021 to gather and connect food tech innovators and promote food tech innovation. K,D,C Foodlab, includes a co-working space, test kitchen and community restaurant.
Now, MARUI is the latest big Japanese player doing their bit to promote food tech.
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MARUI’s Food Tech Event
MARUI Co. Ltd is a major Japanese retail company that operates department stores around Japan. The company held their first-ever Food Tech Event in their store in Shinjuku, Tokyo from July 1st - July 15th. A second event at MARUI’s central Yurakucho-store is scheduled to start on August 1st.
MARUI is partnering with innovative food and beverage companies from within Japan and abroad who are showcasing their products at the events. Visitors can try samples of products, ranging from Agrain’s upcycled granola to Gryllus’s insect protein bars. Keep reading for a more detailed breakdown of participating companies below.
As touch points with consumers, MARUI are ideally positioned to raise awareness about food tech while supporting innovators. According to Masahiro Ohta, in charge of Public Relations at MARUI, they aim to serve both customers and innovators with their events.
We want to realise a "platform" that connects companies that create new food value with customers who want to try new foods. We decided to hold a "food experience event" utilizing our stores, which is one of the strengths of our group.
For startups, it’s a challenge to get innovative products into retail in Japan. This makes it hard for them to test the market and understand a broad range of consumer responses. MARUI’s event offers innovators an invaluable opportunity then, as Ohta explains.
We collect feedback and opinions about the products from the customers through conversations and questionnaires and provide feedback to the participating companies.
We’re also giving out discount coupons for each company’s products to encourage visitors to purchase products after they get home from the event.
For consumers, they can try new and innovative products before buying them. This is key in Japan as some consumers are risk-averse and wary of buying novel products they have never sampled. The Food Tech Event is an opportunity to not only try but learn about new products, including how to cook and use them.
We offer product tastings from all participating companies to visitors so that they can experience how great the foods taste. We have also gathered a team of food-loving employees from the Group to talk with customers about the background and story of each brand. We aim to help consumers have an enjoyable food tech experience.
Masahiro Ohta, Public Relations Chief @ MARUI
Which companies have products at the event?
Sustainable protein and upcycling companies feature prominently at MARUI’s Food Tech Events.
Soycle, a Kyushu-based startup is showcasing its innovative flake-type soy protein. There are also two insect-protein players exhibiting products at the event. MNH, maker of Cricket Confectionary, is giving customers a chance to try their protein-rich cricket snacks. Gryllus, who we featured earlier this year, are offering protein bars and cookies made with crickets that have been fed on upcycled feed.
Several other upcycled products are on show at the Food Tech Events. Visitors can try and buy Vegheet’s edible wraps made from upcycled fruit and vedge, and also Agrain, products made from brewers' spent grain. Agrain is a Danish company and their products, including crackers, granola and chips, were imported to Japan specifically for this event.
Donald Roxburgh on Agrain
Introducing Donald Roxburgh
Donald is the Founder and Market Entry Strategist of Wholesum Japan. He is an experienced manager with in-depth knowledge and expertise in Japanese business culture, insight, and strategy. He effectively facilitates profitable business development frameworks for his clients, paving the path for a successful entry to the Japanese market.
Donald is also part of the GourmetPro network. Find out how we can support you to bring your F&B products to Japan here.
Wholesum Japan was engaged by a customer to provide an end-to-end import and localization service for the Agrain products specifically for the MARUI Food Tech Event. This was our first experience with Upcycled products. It has certainly been an eye-opener as to how much potential food the world currently treats as waste.
The eye-opening potential of products like Agrain are significant in Japan, where awareness of upcycling is currently low. In a survey we conducted earlier this year, we found that fewer than 30% of Japanese consumers were aware of upcycling. Yet, once they understood the concept, almost 78% wanted to try upcycled products.
Japan's upcycling food movement is still in its early stages, so we believe that these products are a good example of the potential of upcycling to reduce food waste. The Agrain products are an elegant solution, utilizing organic certified byproducts from beer production which has a high nutritional value. On top of their environmental benefits, the products also taste good and are healthy. So far the consumer reaction has been very positive - people are surprised at how good the products taste.
Above all, taste is key to convincing consumers to try new products in Japan. Agrain has already been proven through commercialization in Denmark and New Zealand. It’s a quality product that has the potential to appeal to consumers in Japan. Through delicious products, consumers will come to learn about the technologies that underpin them and why they are important.
The support of large retailers like MARUI can have a big impact on awareness. Every day one of their stores alone has thousands of consumers passing through. This represents a great opportunity to showcase innovative products in Japan. And MARUI is keen to collaborate.
MARUI has been very good to work with. This July event was their pilot event and flexibility and determination were key attributes for all involved.
Donald is already looking forward to the next event scheduled for August, 2022.
We are excited to see what the August event in their Yurakucho store will look like. The event will be in a more prominent location near the first floor entrance which we hope will translate into further exposure for the Agrain brand.
To learn more about the products featured at MARUI’s event, visit the official event page. The August Food Tech event takes place from the 1st ~ 15th. It will feature several new companies in
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