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.

Netflix’s new street food series is mandatory viewing for every food and beverage marketeer

Netflix have just launched a series on street food. It contains important insights into the mindset of stall operators, the intimate relationship they enjoy with their clientele and of course the importance of taste and constant innovation. 

What is less well acknowledged, but equally important, is that several consumer brands have made this channel central to their success.

I found the first episode featuring a wiry, 73 year old Thai chef, called Jay Fai, fascinating.

Jay Fai

The programme takes us through Jay Fai’s culinary journey, from first experimenting with the wok, taking a loan to open a stall, going upmarket with large tiger prawns to developing a crab meat omelette, one of her signature dishes. We learn the importance of ‘rich and tasty stock’, attention to detail in ingredient preparation and constantly listening to customer feedback. 

The food photography was stunning with mouth watering shots of boiling curries and drunken noodles, all deftly prepared on flaming charcoal.

The street food business involves unsociable hours, a 7 day work week not to forget the heat and humidity. Landlords and Government regulations are a constant headache. However Jay’s passion and energy shine through.

Over the years I’ve sat in focus groups and heard consumers replay their associations with food, consumption occasions and brands. Some of the most indelible involve street food. One reason is taste, the food is freshly cooked and served immediately. Another is the social aspect, it’s an informal, relaxed and familal environment with friends, relations and children.

Recently, the perception of street food has improved dramatically. Far from being cheap and dirty, the best outlets have become culinary destinations for locals and tourists alike. A number of street food chefs, like Jay Fai have won Michelin awards. Like craft beer breweries have become renowned for novelty, street food is at the cutting edge of experimentation.

As a westerner coming from a country with very little street food (Britain’s closest would be fish n chips or perhaps Balti in Birmingham?), street stalls never struck me as an important Sales or influencer channel. My thinking was narrow minded and misguided. 

Milo on a street stall, Thailand

Later when I worked in Nestle Malaysia did I see first hand the huge business Milo enjoyed because of its penetration with vendors. Soy and chill sauce, mayonnaise, cooking oils and stocks were also big. Brands like F&N’s 100 Plus and beers like Tiger have this channel in their DNA.

Michelin star? Deliveroo eyes the menu of French haute cuisine

It’s not every day that a British founded food business makes waves in France.

However being the first mover in the world’s gourmet heartland has advantages. Deliveroo was quick to launch its digital platform in France, with a promise of 30 minute delivery.

Deliveroo, Paris

Today it has a turnover of over Euros 50million and is profitable. 

Deliveroo has since expanded to 8 other European countries, but states France is the engine room of its continental sales with ‘increasing growth in orders and customers.’

In fact it now has two business streams. The first a consumer one based on 6000 restaurants and 10,000 riders.

The second, an enterprise model, Deliveroo for business. This targets corporate business travellers, who from their hotel can order Paris’s finest restaurant fare on room service.

Success has not been a one way street. There have been disputes with its self-employed riders, who saw a drop in their delivery rates in 2017. And competition is fierce with Uber-Eats, Resto-In, Planet Sushi and Foodora who exited the market in 2018.

Foodora, Paris

Deliveroo’s financial model involves charging restaurants listing fees, plus an undisclosed ‘back margin’ on sales in addition to a cut from each customer.

Whether Michelin’s reviewers will be taking the Deliveroo option is not known…

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