The Plant-Based Food Revolution is Here.
Is the future of food green and clean?
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The rise of the plant-based food market in Japan
Without further ado, let’s dig in!
It’s in the air.
We are shifting away from animal products. Whether for health reasons or ethical and environmental concerns, the demand for clean plant-based products was on the rise in 2019 and soared in 2020, pushed to the top by the turmoils caused by the pandemic. Around the world, plant-based product makers, from start-ups to large corporations, are bracing themselves for this ‘green’ boom.
The race is on to capture mainstream consumers ready to eat fewer animal products, but not at the cost of flavor, texture, or function. Today, plant-based products have to rhyme with better-for-you. Taste, price, and accessibility are critical drivers for this next generation of plant-based options.
Until now, North America has been labeled as the leading hub in the plant-based economy, backed up by go-getter start-ups and strong food-innovation VCs. The consumer demand for clean-label products in the region has been a strong driver, along with rising investments.
Europe, fully embracing vegan trends, isn’t far behind and is even expected to lead in the coming years. The European Commission reported in 2018 that plant-based products were no longer a niche market and that consumption of meat and dairy alternatives was on the rise. The commission further proposed measures to support and stimulate the sector.
Australia is the third fastest-growing vegan market in the world and projected growth of 9.6% for 2020. The Australian plant-based industry stimulated by the growing demand from a younger market looking for vegan options when dining out is expected to play an essential role in the country’s economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.
In comparison, the Asian market, and Japan, in particular, is lagging—but plant-based “alts” are gaining popularity. Growth opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region are promising, with projected growth of 200% over the next five years in key markets. The region’s cultural familiarity with soy-based proteins, such as tofu, facilitates the development and introduction of new plant-based products.
Japan is late to the game, but not too late. And it’s remarkable.
In Japan, the plant-based food revolution is a fascinating movement as this is perhaps the first time the Japanese market quickly caught up with an international trend. Up until now, Japan had proven it wouldn’t be easily influenced by what’s happening in other markets. The quick adoption of new products in this category is almost like a revolution by itself, which could be explained by Japan’s opening to tourism and foreign residents.
Today, the Japanese plant-based food market is 5.1 times bigger than in 2010.
In the last few years, the plant-based food market in Japan was slowly but surely growing, indicating an alignment with global consumer choices. Until 2020, the tourism industry and the increasing number of foreign visitors with various dietary needs had been key drivers. Projections had 5% of foreign visitors in 2020 vegetarians, roughly 2 million travelers in total.
But although Japan drastically limited its foreign visitors in 2020 and early 2021 due to Covid travel restrictions, the plant-based market grew by a whopping 38.2% in 2020. This incredible growth results from a newly voiced domestic demand for healthier food sources in the pandemic context.
What’s boiling up in Japan?
Interestingly, the plant-based revolution in Japan does not precisely reflect a population embracing veganism and vegetarianism. Vegewel, an e-commerce and news media company dedicated to all dietary restrictions in Japan, estimated in 2018 that only 4% of the population is vegetarian, and a mere 1% vegan. In a Vegconomist article published in September 2020, Haruko Kawano, representative of the VegeProject Japan, sums up how veganism has been perceived as a foreign concept until recently. This perception led companies and the food industry to develop options to cater to tourists in priority.
If ethical concerns aren’t the primary fuel behind the increasing demand for plant-based, the pursuit of healthier lifestyles is pushing Japanese consumers to eat more green. In 2019, Vegewel conducted a survey revealing that at least 16.8% of Japanese consumers could be labeled “flexitarian,” meaning that they try to reduce animal product consumption. The same year, Rakuten Insight reported that about 53% of respondents tried plant-based food products for health reasons instead of taste or other concerns.
Traditional Japanese cuisine created a favorable environment for pushing plant-based options.
It’s worth noting that Japan’s traditional cuisine could lessen barriers to entry for vegan-oriented products. Indeed, Japan’s traditional cuisine, washoku, is simple and seasonal, with little to no animal products. This green diet resulted from the country’s land scarcity, which favored micro-farming, and Buddhism’s introduction, which in Japan condemned eating meat.
The Westernization of the Japanese diet, from the early 20th century, and Japan’s post-war economic growth put more animal products on their tables. But Japanese consumers’ eating habits still denote awareness of health concerns and a preference for a balanced preference. Today, Japan still consumes fewer animal products than OECD countries average.
Could Japanese people circle back to their traditional plant-based diet?
That’s all, folks!
Stay tuned for our next issue on how the pandemic further accelerated the movement towards more plant-based options, with Japanese consumers growing concerned about their health.
The push gave incredible momentum to the alternative meat category, to the point where what is still a small niche could turn mainstream in the coming years.
Subscribe now to be sure to learn about it next week.
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The GourmetPro team