BY ELIZABETH FINN
MANAGING DIRECTOR, COWAN LONDON
Japanese food and drink is having a moment, particularly in the UK. Mass-market restaurants are serving Japanese food: Yo Sushi, Wagamama, Itsu, and Wasabi. High-end restaurants continue to appear and the UK’s first sake brewery has opened in London. And Ichiba is opening Europe’s biggest Japanese food hall inside Hammersmith’s Westfield this year. The signs are there that the opportunity for Japanese food at home is about to take off with Yo Sushi buying a Waitrose sushi supplier.
The number of Japanese restaurants in the UK surged by 67% between 2010 and 2015, according to statistics portal Statista, leaving Chinese and Thai restaurants for dust. This trend is fuelled by the increase in visitors to Japan, creating demand for Japanese food in the UK. The Japan National Tourism Organisation reported 310,000 people visited from the UK in 2017 – the highest ever.
But the increased focus on healthy living is also part of the equation. A third of adults believe that they are healthier now than they were a year ago, reflecting a booming interest in healthy living initiatives, according to Mintel. And a report by The British Medical Journal (BMJ) found those who stuck closer to Japanese dietary guidelines had a reduced risk of dying early and a reduced risk from heart disease or stroke. No wonder it’s going down so well.
And, as we like experiencing new foods, we also enjoy trying new drinks – whether that’s an Aperol Spritz or an emerging alcoholic drink, such as sake. With the rituals surrounding sake and an ABV the same as wine, we can expect to see more people enjoying a cup of sake with their sushi.
We all know about sushi – but the success of Japanese cuisine should be a lesson to brands, Finn says.
All leading supermarkets now sell sushi. And Japanese, or ‘Japanese-inspired’, brands have started to appear. Kabuto Noodles entered the pot noodle category, with what is seen as a more natural and healthier option encompassing Japanese flavours. And Mr Lee’s Noodles has launched a range of premium and healthy instant noodle products, with some Japanese-inspired flavour variants. Then there’s Itsu’s noodle pots and gyoza (dumplings); and Bird’s Eye, Uncle Ben’s and Charlie Bigham’s all have Katsu chicken offerings made popular by Wagamama.
In 2017, 23% of consumers had tried Japanese food according to Statista, almost entirely in restaurants, so this is just the tip of the iceberg for the at-home opportunity. With its health benefits, range of tastes and flavours and great variety, Japanese food is set to grow. Whether it’s sushi meal kits, Japanese curries or gyudon (beef bowls), there are opportunities for ready meal brands as time poor-consumers want to create restaurant food at home. Miso-based soups and broths are an opportunity in chilled and ambient. Whether it is Schwartz or Bart, someone needs to make Japanese spices available. And if Pot Noodle wants to take on the newcomers, how about a hot wasabi variant?
But FMCG brands must move fast, or they will lose out to retailers offering more Japanese food, spices and ready meals within their own-label ranges. And of course, all these Japanese foods can be enjoyed with sake. Kanpai! (Cheers!)
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