Irresistible Insects #5: Store Crawl
From vending machines to big retailers: a surprising tour of Japan's outlets and the insect products that they sell.
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Hello there Market Shakers. Today we’re sweeping Japanese store shelves to see what edible insect products are available!
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As edible insects are still minor in Japan, the range of products on the market is small. Only a few products are sold through brick-and-mortar stores, so we struggled to track them down. ‘The web’ is the main domain for edible insect products at present in Japan, in addition to a few more novel physical sales channels.
Today we will introduce Japan’s insect-based products and some of the interesting outlets - digital and physical, where you can find them. Enjoy the journey!
Summary of this edition
Overview of sales channels for insect-based products in Japan
Overview of available insect-based products in Japan
Insect-based product promotion
Sales channels for insect-based products
Insect based products are niche in Japan, nowhere to be found in conventional supermarkets, for example. This means there are limited opportunities for shoppers to spontaneously encounter insect-based products. Making edible insects more easily available to consumers in Japan is an essential next step for the segment.
The number of outlets offering edible insects is slowly growing, however. Companies have also come up with some innovative ways to have their products seen by consumers, many of whom are averse to eating insects.
The following is a list of outlets where you can find insect-based products in Japan:
Several online speciality stores such as Bugs Farm and TAKEO began selling insect-based products online in the 2010s. They offer imported and locally made whole insect-based products, as well as processed insect products. Bugs Farm, for example, sells several brands from overseas such as Sens Foods protein products, and a wide range of JR Unique’s whole insect goods.
Finally, online marketplaces like Amazon and Rakuten also offer whole and processed insect-based products.
For the most part, only whole or insect-based snacks are available from commercial brick-and-mortar stores in Japan, and there are only three main stores currently selling insect-based products. Household goods store, MUJI, sells their cricket crackers and cricket chocolate bars in the food section of their stores, as well as online. Discount store, Don Quijote, sells imported edible insects and processed goods such as cricket crackers. Last but not least, 100 Yen store, DAISO, also started to sell cricket crackers in 2021.
These three stores are major players in their relevant sectors, with Don Quijote and DAISO occupying top spots in their categories. Support from large retailers will continue to be important for increasing awareness of edible insects in Japan.
In terms of positioning, stores vary in their approach. MUJI opts for subtlety rather than emphasising their products’ novelty. Their cricket crackers and bars are placed amongst their general snacks on store shelves. Due to their standardized packaging, cricket products don’t stand out from other goods.
Kissing subtlety goodbye, Don Quijote stores, on the other hand, have special insect-based product shelves and displays. The products are surrounded with images of insects and comments about the products, such as, “Insects are the future of food.”
Restaurants and Cafes
Restaurants and cafes, like classy ANTCICADA, or family-friendly TAKEO’s cafe, are a channel where consumers can sample and purchase insect-based products. The market for edible insects is still niche, so these channels play an important role in educating consumers and helping to improve perceptions regarding taste in Japan.
A unique channel for Japan, vending machines are another way for customers to access edible insects. Out in the open and just waiting for potential customers to pass by, they are arguably one of the best ways to get in front of shoppers in Japan.
Available Insect-based products in Japan
There are a variety of whole edible insect products available in Japan, mainly online.
Products from Thai company, JR Unique, are imported and sold online by TAKEO and Bugs Farm. Varieties of insects range from dried crickets and silkworms, chocolate-coated grasshoppers, to entire dried tarantulas and scorpions.
Don Quijote sells several of TAKEO’s whole insects, which are mainly imported from Thailand’s JR Unique, in their edible insects’ sections across stores in Japan.
Likewise, the insect vending machine brand, MOG BUG, offers JR Unique products through their machines. Available products include seasoned and roasted insects in flavours such as Tom Yum soup.
The colourful vending machines, introduced in our third post of the edible insect cycle, contain locally-made insect-based products as well. For example, MOGBUG’s own brand of chocolate-coated silkworms.
Locally produced edible insect products are also available online via TAKEO and Bugs Farm websites. For example, TAKEO sells a range of their own dried whole edible insects farmed from around Japan, such as crickets from Hiroshima or Kyoto. Promoting products by locality is a popular strategy in Japan, where consumers are very interested in trying domestically produced products from around the country.
Snacks and Confectionary
Based on our research, snacks and confectionery such as crackers (‘senbei’ in Japanese) are the most common application for insects in Japan so far.
Starting with cricket crackers, the most prominent is MUJI’s. The household goods store first started selling their cricket senbei online in 2020. After selling out in a matter of hours, they also bought the product to their physical stores the same year.
In 2021, they expanded on their insect-based line, bringing a cricket chocolate bar to their online and physical stores. Crackers and chocolate bars are priced at ¥190, competitive with the rest of MUJI’s products which appear alongside them.
Another brand of cricket crackers available in Don Quijote is simply named, ‘Cricket Crackers’. The product is from Canaly21, a company that makes cosmetics. They began selling cricket crackers in 2021 via Don Quijote and DAISO.
Similar to cricket crackers, startup company Futurenaut, sells cricket chips via their online store, as well as a chocolate bar product.
Several other cricket-based snacks are available online from specialist stores like Bugs Farm, such as MNH Co. Ltd’s brand of crackers. They come in a variety of flavours, including wasabi and curry. They also sell cricket-based potato snacks under the brand “Super Cricket”. MNH’s products are available online.
Finally, silkworm-based insect product startup, ELLIE, sells silkworm chips via their website, priced at ¥770 per pack.
There are a couple of grain-based foods in Japan enriched with cricket powders. First off, we have their national dish: ramen. Bugs Farm makes its own brand of packet ramen using crickets. The product is available online and also via MOG BUG vending machines, costing ¥780 and ¥800 respectively — a steep price when compared to most packaged ramen which sells for around ¥250 in Japanese supermarkets.
Insect-based restaurant, ANTCICADA, made national news and has been generating a buzz ever since they started selling their cricket ramen in 2020. Their beautifully presented ramen contains noodles and soup enriched with cricket powder. Since the pandemic, ANTCICADA has begun selling a cricket ramen kit online, for customers who prefer to enjoy the product at home rather than in-store.
Baked goods maker, Pasco Shikishima Corporation, has been partnering with Futurenaut since 2020 to produce a line of cricket baked goods including croissants and Baumkuchen, which are sold online. They are marketed to appeal to younger consumers, promoting crickets as a sustainable food source that younger generations will likely consume in the future.
Though a major application for insects overseas, there are very few sports nutrition products incorporating insect protein in Japan. Bugs Farm and Futurenaut sell German-based company Sens Foods’ protein powders and bars via their online stores.
Both TAKEO and Bugs Farm sell powdered insects imported from Thailand and Europe, including grasshoppers and crickets. For 100g, prices range from ¥1400 to over ¥3000, depending on the insect species.
Another category worth mentioning is insect based beverages. In our third post, we introduced the limited edition cricket-based stout, made in collaboration with ANTCICADA and brewer Tono Brewing Co.
TAKEO also sells cricket cider, a Japanese soft drink, which is available online via their brick-and-mortar cafe and through MOG BUG vending machines.
ELLIE sells a range of health-conscious smoothies from their online store that has been enriched with silkworm powder. Each smoothie contains a mixture of fruits, vegetables, and silkworm paste, adding up to 5g of protein in total. Packs of smoothies are available from their online store.
Insect-Based Product promotion
Before we close out today’s newsletter, a word on some of the trends we identified in promoting edible insects in Japan.
Firstly, companies heavily promote sustainability and nutritional benefits as points of appeal for consumers to try edible insects, cleverly using their web pages and product packaging to promote entomophagy. For example, similar graphics to the promotional material from BugsFarm below can be found on several companies websites, including MUJI, FUTURENAUT, ELLIE, and even MOG BUG vending machines.
This image from the back of Canaly21’s cricket crackers sold in Don Quijote includes copy that promotes crickets as “good for the environment”, and a graphic comparing their nutrition content to beef and mackerel.
As we found in our own survey and interview with Japanese consumers, the health and sustainability benefits of edible insects are appealing. Companies seeking to bring a product to the market should continue to follow suit and promote the nutritional contents of insect-based food. Likewise, the increasing awareness in Japan of SDG’s - driven by the corporate promotion of sustainability in business, means that Japanese consumers are interested in trying eco-friendly products.
Another trend is marketing that relies on novelty, versus marketing that builds a subtle, sophisticated image for insect-based products. Don Quijote, for example, leans on the novelty of insects to attract customers. They choose to sell mainly whole insects, which they advertise by creating shelf displays with insect images and slogans, to attract curious Japanese customers. MOG BUG and BugsFarm also focus their product marketing towards whole insects.
ANTCICADA relies on more subtle promotion. Their modern website design features images of their food which blends edible insects into gourmet dishes. MUJI’s product packaging uses the same minimalist style as their other F&B products, only with the addition of a simple cricket logo in the corner. Based on the responses we got from interviews with Japanese consumers, playing down the presence of insects in insect-based products is key for getting consumers to sample products at first.
See you next Tuesday!
Stay tuned for next week when we’ll be serving up some market insights from none other than one of Japan’s leading edible insect startups, FUTURENAUT.
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