What makes the plant-based milk boom in Japan different?

plant-based milk products in Japan

Plant-based alternative food is a fast-growing segment around the world. According to the Good Food Institute in the US, plant-based milk was the largest food product category by sales value within the plant-based food segment in 2020. The Japanese Almond Milk Laboratory noted a 34% increase in the sales volumes of almond milk last year. Alternative milk products made from other plant sources are also becoming popular. For instance, the number of new oat-based products in the Japanese market is growing.

Although the plant-based milk segment is growing at a similar pace to that of developed Western countries, several local dissimilarities may change the growth pattern of this industry in the Japanese market.

1. Soymilk and tofu

One of the critical differences separating Japanese and Western markets is the culture of soy. Soymilk and tofu have been around in the Japanese food culture for a long time. They are everyday items in households and one of the basic sources of dietary protein. On the one hand, these choices create natural competition for alternative milk and meat products. On the other, the existence of these items makes it easier for local consumers to accept new plant-based food items.

2. Food culture without meat

Vegetarianism is a modern trend in Western food cultures. However, vegetarian choices have been around for centuries in Japan. Buddhist monks, for example, are famous for eating vegetarian dishes. Moreover, meat was not an essential item in everyday Japanese meals until recent decades. Rather, fish, seafood, and vegetables were the main ingredients of typical Japanese dishes for centuries. Although globalization and industrialization have made Western cuisine available and trendy in Japan, traditional choices create diversity and balance in the everyday diets of the local population. This characteristic of the Japanese market may have an effect on the decision-making of consumers and consequently the growth pattern of the plant-based milk segment.

3. Popularity of the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN are broadly communicated and supported by the Japanese government. Many companies have also made the SDGs part of their corporate policies. These principles are so strongly communicated in all walks of daily life in Japan that they have affected new product development, marketing, and even local customers’ choices. Alternative protein sources directly connect with SDG Goal 2 (zero hunger) and 3 (good health and well-being). Plant-based products, including alternative milk products, have a strong tailwind because of this trend.

Opportunities for global plant-based milk brands

In the coming years, the size of the plant-based milk segment in Japan is expected to multiply. This offers an excellent opportunity for overseas producers and brands to introduce their products or expand their markets in Japan. Notwithstanding, a few local market traits may challenge the success of marketing activities. Paying attention to the local food culture and existing purchase alternatives is therefore essential and can give your product a competitive advantage. As one of the first steps, comparing and highlighting the features of your product to those of the other available choices can be a successful tactic to make your product stand out in the crowd.

Our team at TOO International continuously covers Japanese food trends. Follow our blog to keep tabs on the latest happenings in food in Japan.