Functional Foods for Allergies in Full Bloom in Japan

By Paul Yamaguchi

Functional Foods for Allergies in Full Bloom in Japan

Many Japanese Suffer from Allergies
January to April is allergy season in Japan. According toJapan’s National Growth and Treatment Center, nearly 40 million Japanese suffer allergic reactions in this season - almost one in three people. This number compares with one in every five in the United States, according to the American Academy of Allergy. Common allergic reactions are runny noses, watery eyes, hay fever and atopic dermatitis, and these reactions occur when substances such as pollen and mold enter the bloodstream.Sometimes social stress will trigger an allergic reaction.

New Products Keep Popping Up
When allergy season peaks, products that promise to ease symptoms disappear off the shelves - not from drug store shelves but from the shelves of food stores. Products that contain natural ingredients like tencha, (Rubus suavissimus S.Lee) shiso (Perilla leaf) and mint extracts are widely used.Beverages like Tencha with Lemon from JT, Tencha & Shiso from Takara, Pollen Knockout from Meiji and most recently, Coca-Cola’s mint tea called Spring no Mint. In addition to herbal ingredients, yogurt and probiotics are also recognized as allergy defense substances. In December last year, a probiotic beverage company, Calpis, introduced a liquid yogurt, Interbalance L-92, which contains a new strain of allergy defense bacterium, Lacto acidophilus L-92. In just three months since its introduction, it has sold 7 million bottles at a retail price of ¥158 apiece. Also in December 2003, Kikkoman introduced Tomato no Chikara (Power of Tomato). Kikkoman has also developed a new substance called Naringenin chalcone; polyphenols from tomato skin which has been shown to be effective in allergy defense. Sales have hit ¥500 million, or about $4.5 million in the first 3 months.Allergy candies are also participating in this product growth.

Another way to protect oneself from airborne pollen is to shut it out from your surroundings. How about a spray that blocks the pollen? Daisan Company has introduced a spray for clothing, Pollen Block Air Spray, which prevents pollen from adhering to clothes. It works for 2 months and will last through several washings.

Untapped Growth Potential
The natural allergy defense market is still new and untapped. For functional foods alone, the $80 to $100 million market today is expected to grow 20 percent a year for the next 10 years. The reason for this growth is that the source of allergens continues to increase in homes and offices. More machines and chemicals in homes and offices create unfriendly, unfamiliar air in the atmosphere, increasing the unusual and wide variety of allergy symptoms.

The functional foods that prevent these symptoms will grow as a result.

Photo: left to right. Tomato no Chikara (Kikkoman), Interbalance L-92 (Calpis), Tencha & Shiso (Takara), and Spring no Mint (Coca Cola)


I’ll talk about more about the current nutraceutical environment in the next issue.

Stay tuned.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY.

His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports, including Nutraceutical Japan 2003, Nutritional Supplement Japan 2003, Functional Foods and FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) Japan 2003. For details and information on the reports, visit: or contact Paul at [email protected]

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