While still considered a niche market compared to European countries, growing awareness of health and wellness and sustainability concerns are driving the growth of the vegan food market in Japan.
The Japanese vegan food market is projected to exhibit a growth rate (CAGR) of 11.2% during 2023-2028, according to the IMARC Group, a leading US market research company.
Although Japanese cuisine is already considered healthy, Japanese consumers seek healthier options for animal products to improve their well-being and prevent lifestyle-related health issues, according to IMARC Group. Plant-based diets are associated with various health benefits, including reduced risk of chronic diseases, weight management, and slowing the aging process.
To cater to these consumers, long-established companies, such as the miso producer Marukome and the brown rice company Maisen Fine Foods Co., have introduced soy and rice-based products brand offering over 30 innovative alt meat products. Food manufacturer KENKO Mayonnaise recently joined the trend with its plant-based brand HAPPY!! with VEGE.
Flexitarians and food tech
Climate-conscious meat eaters or flexitarians looking for greener options also drive the market’s growth, according to IMARC Group. Companies are leveraging food technologies to develop realistic meat alternatives that match animal products in taste, texture, and nutrition.
Plant-based meat company Daiz uses whole soybeans and a unique high-pressure method to make an ingredient called Miracle Meat. It has many applications, including burgers, gyozas, fried chicken, and tuna. DAIZ has also developed a liquid egg alternative. Nissin Food Holdings Co. recently launched a plant-based version of “kabayaki” grilled eel, claiming to have a realistic taste and texture.
Japan’s only publicly-listed alt-meat company, Next Meats, has raised considerable funding and now offers a wide range of plant-based products, even at Costco Japan. Also, Kabaya Foods Corporation, founded in 1946, launched a soy-based jerky in 2018, claiming it provides excellent protein and fiber sources.
Regarding the ingredients category, Japanese materials supplier Shin-Etsu has been increasingly innovating ingredients to enhance the texture and mouthfeel of plant-based foods.
Vegan options at restaurants
Additionally, the market research highlights that the availability of vegan options in restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets is also fueling consumer interest and adoption. Foodservice is said to play a leading role in the transition to plant-based diets.
Currently, the plant-based brand 2foods has five fast-casual restaurants and retail locations offering 100% vegan products. Fast food chains such as MOS Burger and Dotour Coffee offer vegan burgers. Also, Starbucks Japan has introduced a range of new plant-based products as part of the chain’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.
Freshness Burger, a local fast food chain, launched a plant-based burger featuring soy-based meat developed in partnership with food tech company Daiz. It was first available at the chain’s store in Tokyo for a trial to be rolled out nationwide.
Ethical and environmental concerns
Furthermore, consumers are becoming more conscious of the ethical and environmental implications of food choices, leading to a shift in diets to contribute to sustainability, states IMARC Group’s market research.
For example, the rising cost of poultry eggs due to avian flu has interested manufacturers and the food service industry in egg alternatives. Food tech companies HOBOTAMA, 2foods, and Umami United have launched egg alternatives to the market.
Other reasons for the market’s potential growth include food security. In 2020, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries established a plan to diversify protein sources and promote plant-based diets, labeling alt proteins an important sector.
Japanese cuisine is traditionally meat and fish-heavy, with small domestic meat production, land scarcity, and heavy reliance on imports. Moreover, sustainability and addressing the climate crisis are becoming a global priority.
“We believe that plant-based food has enormous potential in Japan, and we look forward to continuing to lead the way in creating delicious, sustainable, and culturally valuable products,” Yoshikazu Azuma, CEO of 2foods, told vegconomist in an interview.