How This Startup Is Hatching A New Market For Alt-Eggs In Japan - Alt-Egg Exploration #4
UMAMI UNITED uses two unique ingredients to stand out from the competition and win over the local market with their powdered egg products.
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Happy Tuesday Market Shakers! Today we share our conversation with Hiroto Yamazaki, CEO and Co-Founder of Japan’s leading alt-egg startup, UMAMI UNITED.
UMAMI UNITED works day in and day out with the challenges and opportunities of egg alternatives in Japan. Today’s interview offers fascinating insights into what it’s like for a startup to forge a new market in Japan.
Introducing Hiroto Yamazaki
While working as a tour guide in Tokyo, Hiroto learned from visitors to Japan about the emerging movement to reduce meat consumption overseas. He saw that the concepts of veganism and flexitarianism were broadly accepted in Europe and the US. But in Japan, he saw polarization - a minority of vegans and vegetarians on one side, and a majority of meat eaters on the other.
Hiroto aspired to break down the boundary between vegan and non-vegan. He wanted to unite herbivores and carnivores to co-exist and enjoy the benefits of meat-free eating.
A White Space for Non-Allergenic Eggs
The need for egg alternatives in Japan has long been felt. 10% of Japan’s population have allergies, and eggs are the most common cause. Especially amongst children.
UMAMI UNITED has developed a plant-based powdered egg, UMAMI EGG. Made from konjac, it comes in two versions which we introduced last week. The first is an umami-rich powdered egg that can be used as the base for omelettes, scrambled eggs, and also for baking applications, such as cakes and sweets. Their second product is a “pudding mix”. This offering is explicitly designed to make custard desserts like Japanese purin.
Cracking the Market for Alt-Eggs in Japan Starts With B2B
The market for egg alternatives in Japan is currently driven by consumers with egg allergies and consumers who seek alternatives to animal products; your vegans and flexitarians.
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The right product-market fit is vital for UMAMI UNITED to make the most of this white space.
Another booming market where egg alternatives can surely succeed is baby food. Hiroto explains UMAMI UNITED is already in talks with several major producers who want to co-develop products for retail.
Then there’s the market for vegan and plant-based products.
Hiroto explains that UMAMI UNITED has attracted interest from several major baking companies, including an almond milk maker seeking to develop a plant-based custard pudding.
So, there are plenty of opportunities in B2B, but how about B2C? Hiroto explains it is currently a challenging strategy.
Marketing Plant-Based Eggs in Japan
When it comes to marketing products containing UMAMI EGG, health is the key lever to pull to grab consumers.
The Two Secret Ingredients for Irresistible Alt-Eggs in Japan
UMAMI EGG is unique in using konjac root as its primary ingredient.
Konjac is a root vegetable that grows in Asia. It is traditionally consumed in Japan as a source of dietary fibre. Konjac has additional health-giving properties, including lowering cholesterol, making it a prime candidate for a superfood.
According to Hiroto, this appeals overseas.
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In addition to konjac, another core ingredient that appeals to the local market is UMAMI EGG’s umami powder. UMAMI EGG is flavoured with powdered wood ear mushrooms that have been fermented with enzymes. The process breaks down the proteins in the usually bland mushroom, unlocking rich, dormant flavour.
The flavour-packed mushroom powder has proved so popular with UMAMI’s partners that they have requested they sell the umami powder alone.
What’s Next for UMAMI UNITED?
UMAMI UNITED are also looking to grow its business overseas and capitalize on fertile global markets for alt proteins.
UMAMI UNITED received investment from Big Idea Ventures, one of the largest food-tech investment funds, earlier this year to help them expand.
With plenty of opportunities, Hiroto is still a realist when it comes to Japan.
That’s All Folks
The story of UMAMI EGG offers inspiration for any company seeing to innovate in Japan.
It’s not easy to launch a new product in an unfamiliar category here. But it’s early days for alt-eggs and that means the space is rich with opportunities. What’s important is to seek out opportunities by constantly exploring channels and collaborations.
Now, while competition remains minimal, this is exactly what UMAMI UNITED are doing. With a little grit, determination, and a tasty product, they will hatch the market for alt eggs in Japan sooner or later.
A huge thank you to Hiroto Yamazaki and the rest of the team at UMAMI EGG for supporting this interview.
See you next Tuesday for more alt-egg explorations.
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