Happy Yogurt #3: Shelf Sweep

Let’s hit the store and see what domestic and international products are available in Japan.

Hello, Market Shakers!

In Japan, the consumer interest in and knowledge of plant-based foods is still low, so in order to penetrate the market, food manufacturers work hard on surrounding their products with information. The focus is heavily made on the health benefits such as nutritional values, low or no cholesterol, as well as the addition of probiotics. 

In our first Happy Yogurt issue, we briefly mentioned the main players in the Japanese market — all domestics. Let’s now explore the aisles and have a look at products available to Japanese consumers.

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Summary of this edition:

  • Main domestic brands

  • Smaller domestic players

  • The Almond Milk by Kokubu 

  • Coconut Yogurt by Fruta Fruta

  • Are there foreign brands available in Japan?

The main domestic brands

In recent years, Japanese food and beverage manufacturers have launched new dairy-free options, mostly available at medium to large supermarkets. Convenience stores have not yet embraced soy, almond, or coconut milk-based yogurts, but the time may soon come.

Soy Bio

Pokka Sapporo’s Soy Bio brand is leading the market. The product is available in small and large formats, gaining in popularity. The larger format is driving the sales, which increased by 20% last year. 

The brand clearly targets women with an interest in beauty and health. Since April 2021, popular actor Harusuke Sugino is Soy Bio’s brand ambassador, in a new video campaign on the product nutritional values and taste quality. 

The recognition of soy milk yogurt is about 50%, but the recognition of SoyBio has not reached 10%, so we will develop activities to let people know about soy milk yogurt and SoyBio and have them try it. (...) As the No. 1 manufacturer in the category, we will expand the category itself while firmly communicating the value of the soy milk yogurt category.

Masataka Okubo, General Manager of the Business Planning Department

Soymilk yogurt sales up 20% YoY driven by large containers of SOYBIO Pokka Sapporo (in Japanese)

Marusan Ai 

Marusan Ai’s soy yogurt was launched in 2010. Eight years later, the food manufacturing company launched a version made from domestically grown soybeans, as Japanese consumers are very sensitive to ingredients origin and GMO issues with soybeans grown in North America. Marusan Ai has frequently renewed its formula and brand image, with the latest rebranding in March 2021. The new package prominently displays "plant-derived lactobacillus" while "dairy-free," "soy isoflavone," and "cholesterol-free" are emphasized with colored icons. Marusan Ai is aiming for a clean and natural design appealing to health-conscious consumers. 

The market size of soy milk-based yogurt-like food products exceeded 5 billion yen ($US 45 million). We will make efforts to expand the market by broadening the usage of soy milk to [soy milk-based food products].

Ichiro Kato, Marusan Ai Board of Directors Vice-Chairman

June 29th, Japan Soymilk Association press conference in Tokyo

Top Valu

Japanese retailer Aeon launched a new private label “Vegetive” under their Top Valu brand in October 2020 with products ranging from plant-based meat to yogurt and shredded cheese. The group is looking to meet the increasing demand for healthy, allergy-free products while reducing their environmental impact. The group’s strategy is to develop products in existing categories in order to be more accessible to mainstream consumers. 

Since these products are not mass-produced, we will not display them in large quantities, but rather assemble a solid assortment in the standard sales space and communicate the value of the products using advertising. By doing so, we hope to encourage people to gradually incorporate these products into their diets, saying, “why don’t you try plant alternative foods this time.”

Koji Wada, Aeon Top Valu Director and General Manager of the Marketing Division to the Diamond

Fujicco

In April 2020, Fujicco announced the launch of their first soy-based yogurt brand, noting the growing popularity of plant-based products with Japanese consumers. Long producer of soy-based products, the company combined its knowledge with lactic acid bacteria fermentation technology cultivated with their dairy Caspian Sea Yogurt series. Fujicco has for ambition to get a good share of the market in the future. 

Smaller domestic players

Fukuren

In April 2018, Fukuren, a food processing company based in Fukuoka, launched its first soy-based drinkable yogurt. Produced in the region of Kyushu and fermented with the addition of lactic acid bacteria to soy milk. The company developed its products targeting consumers with milk allergies. 

Mamekichi

OEM manufacturer Mamekichi developed three types of soy-based drinkable yogurts based on different ingredients. The first one is a matured non-dairy yogurt with both plant-based lactic acid bacteria and Yamanashi wine yeast. The brand character represents the man behind the recipe, Fujitoshi Yanagida. Professor and researcher at the Institute of Enology and Viticulture, Fujitoshi is specialized in food science and applied microbiology. 

Mameyoshi is produced with natural water from the Southern Alps and mild-flavored soy. The manufacturer presents this product, available in three flavorings (plain, peach, and grape) as ideal for consumers who dislike the strong flavor of soy.  

The latest addition to their line-up is a drinkable yogurt made from fresh soybean domestically produced with okara powder, a nutrient-rich food containing soluble and non-soluble fiber, protein, lecithin, saponin, and isoflavone. 

Soy Flora & Soy Φ

Both brands Soy Φ (‘Soy Fi’) and Soy Flora were launched in 2016 and 2017 respectively by diary manufacturer Horimilk. At the time, Soy Flora was the first synbiotic yogurt available in Japan. The distribution seems, however, limited. 

While dairy is at its core business, Horimilk looks to tackle both the demand for healthy nutritious products and the need for a more sustainable food production. In 2020, the manufacturer remarketed both brands with new, modern designs to appeal to women, their core consumers. 

The Almond Milk Yogurt by Kokubu Food Create

Launched in spring 2020, The Almond Milk Yogurt aims to disrupt a market largely dominated by soy-based products. Kokubu Food Create came up with an almond milk-based recipe, fermented with lactic acid bacteria (non-dairy), that reproduces the thickness of a regular dairy product. The manufacturer opted for the large container size (350g) and branding clearly distinguishable from the competition with pastel coloring and almond imagery. 

The Almond Milk Yogurt is advertised as good for health and beauty, rich in vitamin E and fibers, low in calories compared to regular dairy or soy-based yogurt, its main competition in the plant-based category. The brand further insists on being cholesterol-free, another key selling point for health-conscious consumers. According to Kokubu Food Create, each container is made of “at least 35 almonds.” 

Green Bio Almond Milk Yogurt by Pokka Sapporo

Early 2021, major beverage company Pokka Sapporo released two almond milk-based yogurt — plain and cacao, under the brand Green Bio. The company is the owner of the Almond Breeze (US Blue Diamond) license in Japan as we explained in our Beyond Milk cycle. We found little noise about the launch of this product, which is not listed on Pokka Sapporo’s official website. It is also worth noting that although made from almond milk, Green Bio may not be 100% plant-based as gelatin is listed among the ingredients.

Coconut Yogurt by Fruta Fruta

In July 2021, Japanese company Fruta Fruta, the exclusive importer and distributor of Brazil’s fruit supplier CAMTA, announced the (re)launch of their coconut-based yogurt. The company had tried to enter the market with a smaller container in 2018, but the product disappeared from store shelves.

Fruta Fruta’s product is made of additive-free coconut milk with no addition of sweeteners, colorants, or thickeners. The Coconut Yogurt is available in Aeon and AEON Style stores in Honshu and Shikoku. 

Are there foreign brands available in Japan?

To our knowledge, there is currently no foreign brand available in Japan. The organic supermarket chain Bio c’Bon used to import the brand Happy Coco, a coconut-based yogurt from the Netherlands. However, today Happy Coco is unavailable since a product recall in January 2021

See you next Tuesday! 

Next week, we get to the heart of the plant-based yogurt category in Japan thanks to a fantastic interview with Kokubu Food Create, the food manufacturer behind Japan’s unique almond-based yogurt.


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