Shelf Sweep: Uplifting Upcycling #4
Which upcycled products are hiding on Japanese store shelves?
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Good day Market Shakers! Today we’re going to cycle through the upcycled food and beverage products that we could find in Japanese stores.
Upcycled products are mainly available online; only a few are on store shelves.
Our exploration uncovered a trend: upcycled ingredients feature heavily amongst alcohol, chocolate and fruit and veg-based products. The range of other available products is diverse and rich with innovation!
Upcycled foods: a product of the online domain
Upcycled food products are currently almost non-existent on supermarket shelves. We only found one or two products (more below), in addition to ingredients that are traditionally upcycled in Japan - like okara, in brick-and-mortar stores.
Online, it’s a different story. Sustainable market Oisix ra Daichi, for example, has a whole section of its online store dedicated to upcycled products. Seeking to build a ¥2 billion market for upcycled products by 2023, they trial various upcycled food products to identify what vibes with Japanese consumers. Similarly, upmarket deli, Dean and Deluca Japan, launched a range of canned fish products in 2021 made with upcycled ingredients, and have a dedicated PR page on their website for this too.
Startups and companies that specifically specialize in products made with upcycled ingredients mostly sell their products online, such as Loss: Zero, maker of chocolate upcycled from unwanted valentines chocolates and upcycled snack-box maker snaq.me.
Alcohol companies are an exception to the rule in that many also operate bars. Ethical Spirits, for example, has its own watering hole in Tokyo where customers can sample their gin. Upcycled craft beer brewer Rise & Win Brewing has a taproom in Tokyo and a local one in Tokushima, where they are based.
What kinds of upcycled F&B are produced in Japan?
Our search of online and physical spaces identified that currently alcohol, chocolate and fruit and vegetable-based products are leading the market for upcycling. These industries typically produce high volumes of waste and they’re seeking to do more with it. High volume side-streams include spent grains from brewing for example, or cacao fruit waste, 70% of which is normally discarded during the chocolate-making process. Under the pressure of SDG driven waste reduction targets, companies in these industries are using their plentiful resources to turn waste into value-added products.
The number of products in the market in Japan is still small, however. While alcohol, chocolate and fruit-based upcycled products show promise, there are opportunities for other categories to make a big splash in the upcycled food and drink space. Products, such as Keishindo’s upcycled crackers, show there is great potential for innovative upcycling in Japan. As more and more F&B companies seek to invest in creating value from their waste, we expect to see upcycled products from many categories entering the market.
Before we reveal the innovative products that customers can already get their hands on, however, let’s take a look at products that are traditionally made through upcycling in Japan.
Japan’s “upcycling” tradition
In our first newsletter of the upcycling cycle, we discussed some of the major foods that Japan has been upcycling for decades or more. Though they fit the bill, these foods often don’t brand themselves as “upcycled” for various reasons, such as low awareness of the term in Japan. The following are some of the “traditional” products made from upcycled ingredients that are available in Japan.
Intestines, or motsu in Japanese, have long been eaten in Japan. There are many restaurants in Japan that specialize in mostu, serving up fried, boiled, and grilled variations of organs. Given that the businesses are normally family run, there is limited data available about the size of the motsu market.
The leftover pulp from soybean processing is a nutrient-rich superfood that’s been trending in the western world recently and has been consumed in Japan for centuries. It continues to be a staple of Japanese kitchens, sold in its raw form in most supermarkets.
Over 600,000 tonnes of okara are generated in Japan from soy production. A large amount is still binned but given recent trends towards sustainable production, companies are seeking to utilize the perfectly edible product. For example, OKM Co., Ltd, a manufacturer of food products with okara, recently launched vegan-friendly, gluten-free, okara based curry flakes in the U.S.
Deats, a company that makes plant-based meats from okara and konjac, entered the market in 2020. They have seen impressive growth by marketing the sustainable aspect of their ingredients and developing products that appeal strongly to the Japanese audience, including fried chicken and an alt-fish fry.
A byproduct of sake production, sake lees are used in products ranging from cosmetics to pickles, and even ice cream in Japan. Sake Kasu has experienced a boom in Japan in recent years, in part due to the growing popularity of amazake, a traditional sweet drink that can be made by mixing sake lees with water and sugar.
Soy sauce makers Maruten Soy Sauce Co. Ltd launched their own brand of gelato in 2021. YASASHIKU Gelato is made with leftover amazake from their other production processes and flavoured with locally sourced fruit that would be thrown away.
Many of the above-mentioned products promote that they help to reduce “food loss” in their branding materials, further hinting at the growing interest in foods that reduce waste in Japan. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the latest upcycled products that are piling up on the Japanese market.
Upcycled fruit and vegetable products
Miyamoto Orange Garden Inc. - Fruit seasonings
This company sells tangerine-based products and upcycles their waste peel and “ugly” fruits into seasonings. Their products are available online, via Amazon, and in select speciality stores across Japan.
Oisix ra Daichi - Dried vegetable chips and fruit products
Mail order organic food store Oisix offers broccoli chips, made from waste broccoli stalks, and dried plumbs leftover from the umeishu brewing process. These upcycled products are available via Oisix’s online store and featured on their upcycling promotion page.
FARM CANNING - Curry pastes, fruit and vegetable jams
FARM CANNING makes curry pastes, jams and chutneys from ugly vegetables that they get from local farms around Japan. Their products are sold online and also in Japan’s upscale department store chain Takashimaya.
Minami Shinshu Confectionary Co. - PuruPuru Fruit Snacks
Dried fruit snack manufacturer Minami Shinshu Confectionery Co. Ltd has used the waste syrup from the production of their other products to create a chewy fruit jelly product. The products are available for sale via their online catalogue.
Upcycled cocoa products
Loss Zero - Re:You Chocolate
Sustainable food startup, Loss Zero, creatively upcycled unwanted Valentine's day chocolate into a new fruit and nut chocolate bar. The product is available online.
The name Re:You plays on the idea of re-giving unwanted chocolate to yourself or a loved one, and phonetically, sounds like the Japanese word for ‘reason’, riyū.
Barry Callebaut - Cabos Naturals
Swizz mega chocolatier Barry Callebaut began selling their brand of cacao-based ingredients upcycled from cacao fruit in Japan last year. The brand includes cacao fruit juice, pulp, cascara, and Evacao, a chocolate product for couverture.
GODIVA Japan launched a chain of speciality chocolate stores, Atelier de GOVIVA, which sell some sustainable confectioneries made with Barry Callebaut’s Evacao upcycled cocoa.
Nestlé - Whole Cacao Fruit KitKat
Nestlé’s KitKat product has taken on a life of its own in Japan, with a new flavour entering the market every season. In 2019 they launched a KitKat made with powdered cacao pulp that would usually be wasted as a substitute for sugar. The product is sold via their online store and in their physical chocolatory stores.
Ethical Spirits - Gins
Craft gin maker, Ethical Spirits, upcycles waste products including sake lees, cacao, and unused beer to make their award-winning range of gins. Their flagship gin, LAST, is distilled using waste sake lees and won first prize at the world gin awards in 2021.
Launched in 2020, Ethical Spirits has grown quickly and recently achieved an investment target of 140 million Japanese yen which will be used to create a new production facility nearby Tokyo.
Their products are available via their online store, and in select stores in Tokyo such as organic supermarket, Bio Ral.
Rise & Win Brewing - Yuzu Peel Craft Beer
Rise & Win Brewing Co. brews craft beer spiced with upcycled yuzu peel. Their range includes IPAs, pale ales, porter stouts and more. With the spent grain left over from brewing, they produce sweets and granola which they sell via a sustainable store.
Their beers are only available from their two taprooms in Japan, one in Tokyo and one in their native Tokushima.
SanktGallen Brewery - Apple and Cinnamon Ale
SanktGallen is a craft brewer credited with starting the craft beer trend in Japan. They produce a seasonal Apple and Cinnamon Ale each year made from upcycled “bad apples” that would be discarded by a local farm.
The beer is sold online, and also via partner establishments around Japan.
Asahi - Craft Beers
Japan’s largest brewer made their foray into the upcycled beverage market in 2021 when they released not one, but two beers made with upcycled ingredients. KURUMAE Black is a coffee stout brewed using waste coffee beans and KURUMAE White is a weizen type beer made from wasted bread.
Asahi was strongly influenced by the UN SDGs when embarking on their upcycled beer projects and worked with the local community to identify waste products to use in their beers.
Dean & Deluca - Canned Fish Dishes
In 2021, New York grocer Dean & Deluca’s Japan outposts released a series of canned creations from famous Japanese chefs which used wasted fish as their main ingredient. The products include yellow-tail curry, sea-urchin stew, and many more.
They are available via Dean and Deluca Japan’s stores and website.
SOI - COLEHA Coffee Bars
COLEHA is a brand of coffee bar made by fermenting spent espresso grounds with koji, a beneficial mould used in the production of soy sauce and sake. The fermented coffee is combined with cacao and sugar to form bars. COLEHA were released by SOI in 2021 and sold for ¥800 in local coffee chains across Japan’s southernmost island, Shikoku.
Key takeaways for the future of upcycled F&B
While exploring stores and digital isles, and chatting to consumers last week, we spotted a couple of trends that may speak to the future of upcycled food and beverage in Japan.
5 insights we learned about upcycling from over 60 Japanese consumers:
Riding the wave of sustainable consumption
Upcycled products naturally rhythm with the Japanese philosophy of mottainai, regret over food waste, making them more appealing to consumers. A lot of the products above appeal to their waste-saving benefits in thier product information. Comments from consumers we surveyed showed Japanese consumers can be convinced to try upcycled products as long as they are clearly branded as waste reducing, and the origin of the upcycled ingredients is made clear.
Health could be a key driver to hooking consumers
Modern trends toward health in Japan also align with the nutritional benefits of upcycled foods. For example, cacao fruit husk is rich in fibre, and spent grain is rich in protein and fibre. Leading upcycled brands outside of Japan focus on the health benefits of upcycled products; some, such as ReGrained and RISE, brand their products as superfoods. The prevalence of vegetable products that we found in the market, and a preference for these products expressed by consumers we interviewed, suggest upcycled products with clear “health” benefits will appeal in the Japanese market. Companies that invest in validating the nutritional richness of their products may well see returns of riches.
That’s all folks
We hope you enjoyed our sweep of upcycled products available in Japan. We’re excited by the potential we’re seeing for the range of products to grow in the future. In fact, next week we’ll be bringing you an interview with the CEO of ARANEA Ltd., an upcycling startup in Japan whose goal is to transform our food system by empowering organizations with tech so they can integrate upcycling into their products.
See you next Tuesday!
Uplifting Upcycling Chapters
#0 - Japan's Food Waste Problem
#1 - Fighting Global Food Waste
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