Happy Yogurt #4: Market Insights With The Almond Milk Yogurt

The Almond Milk Yogurt, launched in April 2020, is Japan's only 100% plant-based yogurt made from almond milk.

Hello, Market Shakers! 

Today, we are very excited to share with you an interview with Kokubu Food Create, the food manufacturer behind Japan's only 100% plant-based almond-based yogurt, launched in April 2020.

Despite being very busy with their promotion campaign, their Marketing Division kindly took the time to share about The Almond Yogurt Milk Yogurt and their impression of the Japanese plant-based market. 

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Established in 1712, the Kokubu Group first started as a kimono and soy sauce brewing business, before branching into the wholesale business as we know it today. With a portfolio of over 600k products, the Kokubu Group is present in Japan and over 60 overseas markets, with a strong focus on the ASEAN region since the early 2010s. The group aims to contribute to the development of the Japanese food culture overseas. As a subsidiary of the Kokubu Group, Kokubu Food Create, and its original brand Create, develops new food products based on the concept of health, taste, and happiness.

“Consumers’ health awareness is driving the plant-based food market in Japan.”

Like a few other key players on the Japanese market, Kokubu Food Create noted a gradual increase in plant-based food products parallel to a rise in health concerns among consumers.

But in 2020, we saw a rapid expansion of the plant-based market in Japan, with a sudden increase in plant-based milk and meat substitutes. The population that consciously purchases plant-based products is still the minority. But consumers’ needs are widening, and we believe that the plant-based market will continue to expand with new product launches. 

Japan is catching up with overseas markets, where a plant-based revolution is in the making. In North America, Europe, Oceania, and beyond, the dairy-free yogurt category has experienced tremendous growth. Overseas, consumers can find various yogurt alternatives made from coconut, almond, nut milks, and more in the largest markets. Japan, however, is a market dominated by soy milk. 

In the Japanese market, the soy-based yogurt category is mainstream, and the market share is growing. So, we thought it would be interesting to try something different. 

Since the almond milk boom of 2017, Japanese consumers have positively perceived almond’s nutritional value. 

Looking to disrupt the market with a new product, the food company chose to develop an almond milk-based yogurt. After the increase in popularity of almond milk particularly, with women, the primary consumers of soy-based yogurt, betting on almond benefits was a sensible choice. 

We wanted to develop a plant-based yogurt with health and beauty benefits that would cater well to the needs of women in their 30s and older. So we naturally came to pick almond milk, rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant excellent for skin health

The product research and development phase also revealed almond milk has a solid potential thanks to its flavor properties. Mild and nutty, the almond milk would give a gentle flavor to the yogurt, in sharp contrast with soy yogurt that often has some sort of beany flavor to it. 

Launching Japan’s first almond milk-based yogurt was a challenging process.

The Almond Milk Yogurt is the first of its kind in Japan, where not even foreign brands have made a market entry up to now. For the Kokubu Group, this meant doing research and development from scratch. 

We started from the ground up. Our first challenge was to source raw materials. Fortunately, we were able to work with companies providing quality ingredients to meet our standards. Then, we also had to approach manufacturers able to support the development of an almond milk-based yogurt formula and its fermentation process. Thankfully, we found partners enthusiastic about our project, and we could get to work with them.

After securing valuable partnerships, the group went through trial and error before getting the recipe and production process right. Made out of carefully selected ingredients, The Almond Milk Yogurt does not contain additives or stabilizers and is only slightly sweetened with oligosaccharides. But beyond the recipe, launching a new product required some hard work in design packaging and brand image, too. 

Designing the package of our product, unique in Japan, was challenging. We needed to get this right. We spent time creating an iconic product that we hope will lead the almond milk yogurt category

Today, the company works hard to improve its products and increase brand awareness. 

Since the launch of The Almond Milk Yogurt, Kokubu Food Create has kept improving product quality and design packaging to encourage consumers to purchase their dairy-free yogurt and come back for more. 

The issue we’re facing at the moment is the lack of general awareness among consumers. Today, many consumers have never heard of dairy-free yogurt other than soy. They also have not seen our products in-store, so we need to work on communication about this category, and of course, our brand. We need to disseminate more information

Despite the difficulties with opening this new category on the Japanese market, the company stays positive. Overseas markets show that there’s space for more variety, and in time, Japanese consumers will open up.

In other markets, consumers have access to a wide choice of dairy-free products, and Japan is catching up with a ‘plant-based lifestyle.’ Therefore, we believe that this variety is bound to expand in Japan to suit the new needs of consumers here

Kokubu Food Create believes that the food traditions of Japan offer a fertile ground for plant-based products. Traditionally, Japanese cuisine uses a wide range of plant-based ingredients — rice, soybeans, seasonal vegetables, and has, in some ways, vegetarian roots.

But beyond the influence of food traditions, Japanese consumers care more and more about keeping a healthy balance between animal and plant-based food in their diet. We feel celebrities, and social media are influencing more and more consumers to embrace plant-based products. The SDGs (Social Development Goals) related to sustainability and the environment also play a role in spreading plant-based products in Japan.

See you next week! 

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