Japanese Miso strides up the superfood charts, but can it last the pace?

For a food whose origins date back to China and 7th Century Japanese Buddhist monks, Miso isn’t a precocious culinary upstart.

Miso paste

Last year in Japan there were 480,000 tons sold, nearly 50,000 tons more than 2013. Given the static demographic headwinds here that’s some achievement.

Sales have been boosted by Miso’s growing health credentials. A doctor on a well known TV station has been waxing lyrical about its benefits and even public broadcaster NHK states that Miso is the ‘source of long life.’

Power to the beans!

Last year Japan exported around 100k tons of Miso and other condiments, the biggest markets were the US, China and Korea. In Europe, perhaps surprisingly the UK topped the charts, a nod to Washoku’s British penetration.

Miso is an easy word for foreigners to pronounce, unlike many Japanese food descriptions and is served de rigeur in iconic bowls. This has made the category memorable. Whether consumers can recall any Miso brands is less clear.

The challenge as with many Japanese foods, is that most brand owners have little category growth expertise.

Take Marukome, the market leader. They established a Thai subsidiary in 2013 and earlier this year announced plans to launch an ‘Antenna’ shop in Bangkok. It’s a great idea but the naming of the outlet ‘Hacco Labo’ will mystify most (Hacco is the Japanese word for fermentation).

Marukome Thailand’s Miso advertising

Japanese producers need to do more to emphasise the authentic origins of their product. And quickly to avoid being copied! Itsu is a London based Washoku chain, owned by British entrepreneurs, who are already selling a range of Miso products in up market supermarkets. I am not even sure it’s made in Japan.

Itsu Miso

There is no shortage of Miso innovation in Japan. Recent trends have included sweet Miso, freeze dried and also liquid varieties marketed on a freshness platform. The venerated TV doctor recommends red miso.

Let’s see if the Japanese Miso industry can keep up the pace.