Irresistible Insects #8: Expert Insights with MUJI & MOG BUG
MUJI and MOG BUG share their secrets to building bug-based businesses in Japan.
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Good morning Market Shakers!
Today marks our final post of the edible insect product cycle! Thank you for sticking with us as we explored the beehive of activity within the edible insect market today. We hope you’ve found it as ‘edi-flying’ as we have.
The last post features the voices of MUJI and MOG BUG, two companies taking different but equally interesting approaches to selling edible insect products in Japan. MUJI’s story shows how large retailers can successfully launch insect-based products. MOG BUG, on the other hand, offers a case study into how smaller players can build an edible insect business in the land of the rising sun. We also invited Mr. Takashi Fukushima, a GourmetPro consultant and sales specialist who is knowledgable about the edible insect market in Japan, to summarize the post.
Let’s burrow into how these two insect-based product pioneers are making big business from bugs in Japan.
MUJI’s product launch bring insects to the mass market in Japan
In 2020, global retail company MUJI broke headlines in Japan when they released a cricket cracker on their online store. You’ll remember from our third post - it sold out in a matter of minutes, prompting MUJI to stock it in physical stores, and launch a follow up cricket chocolate bar one year later.
To hear the full story of MUJI’s successful insect-based product launches, we spoke with the public relations officer from MUJI’s PR & ESG Division.
N.B. MUJI’s public relations team have requested to remain anonymous.
Sustainability and tradition are at the heart of MUJI’s decision to launch edible insect based products.
The inspiration for MUJI to sell edible insect based products was the unlikely result of a new store opening in Finland in 2019.
MUJI’s explanation offers an interesting insight into what influences Japanese consumers. Japanese cuisine is steeped in tradition, and consumers in Japan are generally intrigued by the history of their food. The fact that insects have been eaten in some parts of Japan in the past means consumers are likely curious about edible insects.
On the other hand, as we’ve seen during our consumer interviews, sustainability is not as strong a driver for consumers in Japan compared to overseas. So, MUJI used their product launch as an opportunity to raise awareness among Japanese consumers about edible insects and their sustainable benefits. They designed a dedicated page on their website featuring infographics explaining the ecological and health benefits of eating insects compared to livestock, in addition to information about what insects tend to taste like (“like shrimp”).
With awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ESG Management (Environment, Sustainability, Governance) rising in Japan, especially amongst younger people, it’s worthwhile for companies to invest in educating consumers about the sustainability of their products. According to MUJI, it’s younger consumers who their cricket products are most popular with so far.
MUJI aims to price their insect products in line with their food products
MUJI’s PR officer explained their pricing strategy when it came to insect based products was simple.
As we saw in our fourth post of the cycle, ensuring edible insect products are competitively priced is key for Japanese consumers to consider trying them. MUJI has shown that products incorporating insects can be just that.
One key aspect of keeping prices low is the cost of raw materials. MUJI developed their product in partnership with Gryllus, a Japanese cricket farming startup from Tokushima University. Many other producers in Japan, however, currently import cricket powders from South East Asia, which brings higher costs due to import fees. Fortunately, demand for insect-based raw materials such as cricket flours means the number of domestic producers like Gryllus is increasing in Japan. Gryllus reported that demand for their product outstrips supply tenfold. This is a sign that the edible insect market in Japan is growing, and with that, the price of raw materials is likely to fall as demand increases.
MUJI focussed on flavor over fear when producing edible insect products
When we asked MUJI about consumer aversion to insect based foods, their response was pragmatic.
Our Consumer Sound-bites post confirmed as much. For the consumers we interviewed, taste was a top priority for trying edible insect products. The ongoing popularity for MUJI’s insect products shows that their strategy works, especially since Japanese consumers have high expectations when it comes to quality; focussing on developing a great tasting product is an important first step.
MUJI are focussing on sustainable foods for the future
Our final question for MUJI’s PR Officer was about MUJI’s plans for bringing more edible insect products to the market.
MUJI’s story is a fascinating look into how to successfully bring insect-based products to the mass market in Japan. In summary, competitive pricing and leveraging the sustainable benefits of eating insects helped MUJI reach the broad range of consumers who flock to their stores and website, day in and day out. But, how can companies without a mass-market consumer base take on the challenge of selling edible insects in Japan?
Our next company offers an interesting case study to answer that very question.
Why did you start selling edible insect based products?
Taking a different approach to MUJI, our next company, MOG BUG, sells insect based products via vending machines in Tokyo. The novel sales channel has earned attention from traditional and online media in Japan, enabling them to reach a wide range of consumers. We sat down with Sei Miyashita, MOG BUG’s branding director, to talk about their innovative approach to edible insect retail.
Though their channel is different, MOG BUG were inspired by the sustainable potential of edible insects, just like MUJI.
Vending Machines make insect-based products more accessible
Japan is home to the largest number of vending machines in the world ― almost one for every 23 people, and anyone who has visited the country will have doubtless seen them dutifully standing by on almost every street.
For MOG BUG, the decision to sell their products via vending machines had several drivers, Sei tells us. Firstly, vending machines enabled MOG BUG to make their products accessible to customers even when their restaurant was closed. They currently operate two machines in Tokyo, one being in front of their restaurant in Shinjuku, a busy shopping area, and another being in Akihabara, a bustling commuter hub (though it is better known as a center for otaku culture).
In addition to being easily accessible to pedestrians, vending machines presented an interesting outlet to expand their customer base for edible insects at the time.
Tying together MOG BUG’s strategy of targeting social media users is an active instagram account where they introduce their products. Employing creative sales channels and social media marketing has enabled MOG BUG to build a strong brand that is unique compared to other players in the edible insect space.
MOG BUG offers variety to appeal to a range of consumers
Variety is the spice of vending machines for MOG BUG
We asked Sae to tell us about the best selling products in the vending machines.
MOG BUG’s case illustrates there is certainly demand in Japan for whole insects. When it comes to how to encourage first timers and people who are adverse to edible insects, Sae believes incorporating insects in products is the way forward.
MOG BUG are optimistic about the future of edible insect products in Japan.
Due to the popularity of insect based products, MOG BUG are considering increasing the number of vending machines they operate in Tokyo according to Sae. They also want to leverage their restaurant business and start selling their own products via vending machines, in addition to the ones they import and buy from wholesalers.
It’s certainly an exciting time for MOG BUG to be in the business of edible insects! They have built a successful insect-based business by using novel sales channels and strategic media channels to promote their brand and products.
Insight’s from GourmetPro’s Takashi Fukushima
Our two retailers offering edible insect products to the Japanese market have distinctive businesses and approaches, though they are united by a common motivation ― to promote sustainable proteins.
To help us digest the interviews, we sat down with Gourmet Pro consultant, Takashi Fukushima.
Introducing Takashi Fukushima
Takashi is a sales specialist who connects foreign clients with Japanese sogo shosha distributors. He is knowledgable about all things related to condiments and food additives, ranging from their situation in the Japanese market to their price and origin. As a sales specialist, Takashi is also an expert in social media marketing for brand and product awareness. He has had great success in importing things such as frozen vegetables and food additives from countries that had no prior experience in exporting their products to Japan, including China and Vietnam. Takashi is knowledgable about edible insect products thanks to his storied career in Japan’s F&B industry and a vast network of contacts.
Promoting health and sustainability benefits of edible insects are key for entering the Japan market
Both MUJI and MOG BUG do just this with their physical and digital promotional materials. While edible insects are still finding a place in the market, the importance of educating consumers cannot be overstated. The rise of insect-based products is strongly linked to the need for healthier, more sustainable alternatives to livestock based produce. Helping Japanese consumers to understand this is the first step in getting them to try the products, and it is a timely approach because the pandemic has made consumers more health conscious.
Like we discussed in our previous interviews with FUTURENAUT and Ynsect, the high protein content of insects presents an opportunity in the Japanese market as well. There is growing awareness in Japan about the importance of protein for a healthy diet, so consumers can likely get onboard with eating insect-based food from that perspective.
Given Takashi’s experience working with Japanese sogo-shousha trading houses, and his expertise in marketing, we asked what he would recommend for companies looking for partnership and investment to bring their insect-based products to the Japan market.
That’s a wrap!
And on that note, our edible insect cycle comes to a close. We’d like to say a huge thank you to MUJI and MOG BUG for taking the time to interview with us and for sharing their insights about the edible insect market in Japan.
While we’ll miss writing about the world of insect-based foods, we already have butterflies in our stomachs for the next exciting cycle of Market Shake!
Don’t forget, next week we will take a break from our regular publishing schedule. Instead we have a light bite of an issue for you, so keep your antenna tuned in to your inboxes. We’ll see you next Tuesday.
*These interviews have been translated from Japanese and summarized for the sake of clarity.
Made with ❤️ by GourmetPro - Food & Beverage experts in Japan.
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