Emerging Japanese market trends

Asia's market for foods and supplements, including meal-replacement drinks, foods for sleep disorders and plant-derived lactobacillus, is expanding. Industry analyst Takeshi Takeda of Global Nutrition Group explains

The Japan Health Food & Nutrition Food Association reported that the 2005 FOSHU (Foods for Specific Health Uses) market outpaced 2003 by 11 per cent, with sales of ¥629.9 billion ($5.46 billion). The number of products in the sector totalled 569, a 42 per cent increase.

Against this backdrop, major OTC companies have made a full-scale entry into the functional foods market. Growth was negative for foods aimed at reducing blood sugar, whereas products effective against body fat have been the largest engine of market growth. Products effective against cholesterol have also contributed as well, in particular the Healthya Green Tea brand.

Two items have sold particularly well: Suntory Black Oolong Tea OTTP was launched in May after extensive research into the health efficacy of oolong tea. Suntory researchers discovered that oolong tea's polymerised polyphenols help inhibit fat absorption from foods and increase neutral fat after meals. When eaten with meals, black oolong tea, rich in polymerised polyphenols, counteracts the increase of neutral fat by 20 per cent, according to company data.

The second strong seller is Kao's catechins-rich sports drink, Healthya. Healthya is the first sports drink to have acquired FOSHU approval for a body-fat health claim. The label says, "This product is suitable for people fretting over fats." Even those who have difficulty in playing sports or exercising regularly can expect noticeable effect, the company says.

The meal-replacement diet
A major feature in the weight-loss market in 2006 has been the arrival of big food companies into the meal-replacement market arena. Morinaga, one of the major confectionery companies, launched Weider Diet Support in February, and Hisamitu Pharmaceutical, an OTC company, launched Hisamitsu Healthy Diet in March. In April, Asahi Food and Healthcare, a subsidiary of Asahi Brewery, launched Slim Up Slim, and Suntory released Diet's. In June, Meiji Seika relaunched Protein Diet.

Whereas the weight-loss supplements market remains sluggish, meal-replacement diet foods have been growing strong. In 2004, the weight-loss supplements market earned $400 million in sales. Meal-replacement diet foods amounted to $650 million. Compared with sales in 2002, the growth rate of the weight-loss supplements market was 20 per cent, and the meal-replacement diet foods market was 80 per cent.

In addition, Kirin Wellfoods, a subsidiary of Kirin Brewery, reviewed and relaunched Lieta with a major sales campaign, boosting sales in 2005 to $35 million. Kirin caused a stir in the industry by grabbing the market share of Micro Diet, Sunny Health's top brand. Sales in 2004 of Micro Diet slipped to $435 million, and in 2005 declined to $400 million.

As a countermeasure against new entries, Micro Diet has extended its brand from seven shake-type flavours and four soup-type flavours to an additional seven jelly-type flavours and four risotto-type flavours.

Plant-derived lactobacillus
Kagome's plant-derived lactobacillus beverage LABRE was launched in March. The dairy beverage contains the Labre strain (Lactobacillus brevis KB290), which was discovered in traditional pickles in Kyoto. Labre is better able to survive in the intestines than the company's animal-based strain (L casei).

Kikkoman launched a new type of vegetable beverage, Del Monte Lac Vege, with plant-derived lactic acid bacteria and fermented vegetables. It was developed by integrating Kikkoman's fermentation technology with Del Monte's research and development and buying advantages in vegetables and fruits.

The Japanese have for many years eaten pickles and fermented soybeans, and companies have been developing new functional foods with this technology.

Sleep-disorder products
Dr Makoto Uchiyama, a professor of medicine at Nihon University, calculated productivity losses to the Japanese economy caused by insomnia and lack of sleep to be $30 billion per year. Responding to this news, many products containing Teanin or GABA have been launched in the past year. Ajinomoto, a major food company, attracted much attention when it introduced Gulina containing glycine.

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