The Italian cuisine boom in Japan started in the late 1980s. Because of the popularization of Italian cuisine, many Japanese trading house started to import Italian food (wine, olive oil, pasta etc.) from 1990s onwards, and today Italian products are widely available for consumers.
Why 1: Travel destination
The Japanese Yen appreciated sharply after the Plaza Accord in 1985, and the number of Japanese people traveling abroad increased rapidly. The number of TV programs and magazines introducing Europe had increased, and Italy had become a popular and coveted travel destination, partly because prices were cheaper than in France and England. This Italian boom in the mid-1990s was helped by Japan Airlines' launch of direct flights between Tokyo and Milan/ Rome in 1993.
Why 2: Italian brand popularity
In the 1980s, the Italian fashion boom reached its peak in Japan. In Italy long lines of Japanese people formed at brand stores such as Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo, Giorgio Armani, and Bvlgari. During these trips, many Japanese people became familiar with authentic Italian cuisine.
Hint for Finland
In Japan, a Finland boom has been developing for the past 15 years. Finland is now getting a reputation as a good travel destination. Japanese people are also starting to get familiar with Finnish culture like sauna, Finnish brand like Iittala, Arabia and Marimekko as well as the clean nature in Finland. The Italian case is good example on how the consumer travel trend has a powerful effect on food promotion.
To follow this opportunity linked to tourism, consumer Food from Finland promotion in 2022 has been done in cooperation with Visit Finland. We have organized various consumer events connected to sauna this year. For an example in Sapporo, we organized a sauna event for one weekend in May collecting 500 sauna fans to enjoy various types of saunas accompanied with Finnish beverages like lonkero and beer, and Finnish foods sucha as cinnamon rolls and salmon soup. In general sauna is a huge trend now in Japan for young adults, and sauna fans are starting to connect sauna with specifically Finland. This offers a good opportunity for Finnish food promotion connected to the sauna boom.
During the COVID-19 crisis, the world's food market has taken a major turn leaded by the plant-based food, and this is also true in Japan. In Japan this is especially due to interest in healthy foods as part of health-consciousness to prevent different infections. People are also starting to gain awareness of environmental issues and the SDGs and the improvement of food technology by food tech companies. Now finally also in Japan consumers have the opportunity to see plant-based foods at normal supermarkets such as soy meat, almond milk, and oat milk.
In 2019, food brand Kagome began selling plant based products that do not contain animal-based ingredients for commercial use. Currently, they sell curry, pasta sauce, sauce for taco rice, sauce for gapao rice, etc. under the retort pouch product "Plant Base" brand.
Example Nippon Ham
Food brand Nippon Ham has been developing a plant based meat series "NATUMEAT" using plant-derived ingredients such as soybeans and konyaku (Japanese origin yam potato) since the spring of 2020 targeted to young people as the replacement of normal meat ham. They are planning to expand to a total of 11 items in the sausage category, deli category, and frozen food category.
Example Oats Milk
Japanese consumers know that oats milk is rich in dietary fiber. Danone Japan has released "Oat Milk" that focuses on deliciousness and nutrients from the Belgian plant-based food brand "ALPRO". Coca-Cola Japan has also started selling "GO: GOOD Oishii Oat Milk".
Also in the retails side, there are aggressive efforts for plant-based food. For example, Aeon, a major distribution retailer group in Japan, released "minced meat made from soybeans" as part of the "Top-value Vege Series" in their health and environment-friendly Private Brand "Top-value" category. In addition, major convenience stores are now releasing products that use soy meat. In Japanese food and beverage industry, products related to plant-based foods are attracting attention.
FOODEX as a place for promoting Plant based food
Because of above mentioned trends, Foodex, the biggest food exhibition in Asia had a whole section for plant-based food companies in 2021. Food from Finland has had a Finland pavilion at this exhibition for many years, and BF Tokyo Food from Finland team hopes to see Finnish plant-based companies in FOODEX 2023 in March 7 – 10, 2023.
Photo: The authors are speaking about Finnish food and beverages in Sapporo, Japan.