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Japan: Vegan Food’s Growing Popularity Spurs Industry Innovation

Japan: Vegan Food’s Growing Popularity Spurs Industry Innovation
Traditional food newly interpreted: vegan Tonkatsu

A rising consumer trend of responsible and sustainable food production as well as healthier eating means vegan food is in-demand. Japan has historically been behind in the vegan and vegetarian consumer shift. But this is changing, and the development of vegan products and food service is accelerating in the country.

In late 2019 Japan’s first vegan only convenience store, Vegan Store, opened in Tokyo. Restaurants are adapting to increased demand by serving vegetarian and vegan variations of both Japanese and foreign dishes. Popular food delivery service Oisix ra Daichi, e.g., began selling vegan sushi and other vegan meal kits last year.

Japanese cuisine is already somewhat vegan

Japan’s vegan market can only grow aligned with global consumer choices but also in response to domestic and tourist preferences. Japan records rising numbers of visitors: with Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics 40 million tourists are predicted. Nearly 5% of these visitors are expected to be vegetarian or vegan.

Food culture startup Frembassy found 2.8% of its survey participants described themselves as vegan in Japan and 4.8% as vegetarian. Though the number of vegans in Japan may be low, Rakuten Insight says over 53% of Japanese consumers have tried plant-based foods in search of a healthier lifestyle.

However, magazine Tokyoesque says much food in Japan is “accidentally vegan,” by default, indicating there is unlikely to be an barrier for vegan oriented companies and products in the region.

Momoko Nakamura writing for the Japan Times argues that, “traditional Japanese cuisine, is, in fact, plant-based.” Nakamura says vegan, vegetarian, organic and superfood concepts have been, “rooted in how Japanese people have approached eating for centuries.” Traditional Japanese dishes, or “washoku,” are made from seasonally available ingredients. And with Buddhism’s introduction in the sixth century, came the concept of “Shōjin ryōri,” a simple vegan menu that compliments micro seasonal farming.

Plant-based meat substitutes market in Japan to quickly exceed $300 million

The global vegan food market, as per Acumen Research & Consulting, is expected to reach a value of $24 billion by 2026 growing at a CAGR of 9% or more to that point. UBS estimates the sale of plant-based meat products will generate revenue of $85 billion by 2030. This figure rising from just $4.6 billion in 2018.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Euromonitor International predicts the market for meat substitutes will reach a value of over $17 billion by 2024. In Japan this market is expected to grow from $138 million in 2013, to $308 million in 2023, according to MarketsandMarkets data.

NH Foods, a leading meats company in Japan, is innovating into this market opportunity by introducing plant-based meat substitutes. Its new products, ham and sausage like items made from soybeans, will launch in March 2020.

Marudai Food, a competitor to NH Foods, launched its plant-based meat range already in 2017 and has plans for further expansion in 2020. Itoham Foods, another Japanese meat and pre-cooked food maker, has plans for eight plant-based items. These include Japanese style Hamburg steak and fried chicken variants. The products should arrive in stores in February 2020.

Fuji Oil Holdings, an edible oils company, has invested $22 million in a soy protein meat substitute production facility. It will open near Tokyo in July 2020.