A Complete Study of the Cup Ramen Industry! Is there a blind spot in the too-strong “Nissin Empire”? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

A Complete Study of the Cup Ramen Industry! Is there a blind spot in the too-strong “Nissin Empire”?

The COVID-19 crisis has caused a huge upsurge! The absolute champion dominates convenience store shelves Toyo Suisan has strength in "non-fried noodles", while Acecook has a path to success overseas "Misokin" and "Ichiran" have broken down the "300 yen barrier

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We went to Lawson, Family Mart, and 7-Eleven near the editorial office to purchase all the products. It is a spectacular sight!

Nissin Foods’ dominance is unshakable.

The FRIDAY reporter realized this when he went to a Seven-Eleven near the editorial office to buy lunch. Many of the products lined up in the cup noodle corner occupying the center of the store were from this company.

A high school student in a jersey staring at the shelf next to the reporter, who was probably on his way home from club activities during summer vacation, chose the most popular “Cup Noodle” (254 yen).

Launched in ’71 and still immensely popular, Cup Noodles is the industry’s number one signature product in both name and reality, with an overwhelming presence that includes a large advertisement in Times Square in New York City, USA, that has attracted a lot of attention. When talking about the original popular cup noodle, many may think of “Cup Star” (254 yen), which was launched by Sanyo Foods in ’75 and currently has 46 Nogizaka and 46 Hyuuga as image characters, but in terms of brand power, there is a big difference” (Food analyst Takao Shigemori).

The Cup Noodle series includes a variety of products such as “Seafood Noodle” (254 yen), “Chili Tomato Noodle” (254 yen), “Pakuchi-Scented Tom Yam Kung Kung” (254 yen), and “Hwasyo and Sesame-Scented Kokumami Tantan” (254 yen), with the series alone selling over 100 billion yen The series alone sells more than 100 billion yen annually.

If one’s gaze is diverted from Cup Noodles to the side, products supervised by famous restaurants, known as “shopkeeper products,” catch the eye. Especially well stocked are the Seven-Eleven exclusive Sumire Sapporo Thick Miso (321 yen), Ippudo Akamaru Shinmochi Hakata Tonkotsu (321 yen), and SANTOUKAI Asahikawa Tonkotsu Shio (321 yen).

These are collaborative products that Nissin worked on in ’00 and ’01. As soon as they went on sale, they were extremely popular and sparked the popularity of the shopkeeper’s mono. Since then, the relationship between Nissin and Seven has been solidified through the continued introduction of shopkeeper products such as “Mongolian Ramen Nakamoto Spicy Miso” (237 yen) and “Chuka Soba Tomita” (321 yen).

Convenience stores have limited space on their sales floors, and turnover is rapid. Among them, Seven has narrowed down the variety to a select few, so most of the products are from Nissin, except for the most standard items,” says ramen researcher Hayato Ishiyama.

The “Misokin Thick Miso Ramen” (300 yen), supervised by the popular YouTube star Hikakin and which has created quite a stir, with some even reselling it, is another product that is the result of the teamwork between Seven-Eleven and Nissin. Nissin’s products also dominate the shelves of LAWSON and FamilyMart, although not to the same extent as Seven-Eleven, so the kingdom of the oldest and largest company in the industry is unlikely to be shaken for some time.

Nissin’s strength in advertising, such as its unique commercials, is also an asset. Nissin has long been adept at stimulating consumers’ desire to buy with commercials that are interesting to watch, such as those featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, set in a primitive era, and using addictive animation and music. In addition, the company promotes its products with ideas that other companies do not have, such as creating the “Cupnoodles Museum” and providing opportunities for people to make their own Cupnoodles and Chicken Ramen. Frankly speaking, it is hard to imagine another company surpassing Nissin in terms of both buzz and sales,” said Takero Kanda, a ramen researcher who makes his own ramen.

What are the “Nisshin Empire” measures taken by each company?

Of course, competitors are not sitting idly by. Toyo Suisan Kaisha, Ltd. is taking advantage of its own characteristics to gain popularity among the elderly.

Toyo Suisan is a fishery company by nature, so all of our products have a strong taste of dried fish. In addition to Akai Kitsune and Midori-no-Tanuki (254 yen), the company also has several long-selling products, such as Maruchan Shomen (300 yen), which uses non-fried noodles for ramen,” says instant noodle researcher Sokusai Oyama.

Toyo Suisan, which has produced a string of hits such as “QTTA” (254 yen) launched in 2005, is second only to Nissin in the domestic market, but has a large presence outside Japan, including the top share of the instant noodle market in the United States and Mexico, ahead of Nissin.

Sanyo Foods, which also has a presence in the cup noodle market with its “Sapporo Ichiban” miso ramen and shio ramen (254 yen), the leading bagged noodles, is also making inroads into foreign markets.

In fact, Nissin is in second place in terms of global instant noodle market share. The Chinese company Kang Shi Fu, which originated in Taiwan, is number one. And the joint largest shareholder of Kang Shi Fu is Sanyo Foods. By absorbing the know-how of the world’s number one company, we may be able to threaten Nissin in the future,” said Ishiyama.

Ace Cook, which sells the industry’s first decadent cup noodles, the “Super Cup Series” (259 yen) and “Wakame Ramen” (254 yen), accounts for a whopping 70% of overseas sales, which is significantly higher than those of Nissin Foods and Toyo Suisan, which account for around 40%.

We have the largest share of the instant noodle market in Vietnam, and local people sometimes misunderstand that we are a Vietnamese company,” says Hayashi Takayuki of the Ace Coq Advertising Department.

Acecook also sells more than 30 kinds of collaboration cup noodles a year, including “Denko Ishikka no sesame-scented hot and happy salt tonkotsu ramen” (supervised by ikura, 259 yen), a tie-up product with popular artist YOASOBI, and “Denko Ishikka no garlic-scented bittersweet and spicy soy sauce ramen” (supervised by Ayase, 259 yen). The company sells more than 30 kinds of collaborative cup noodles each year.

There are some collaborations with artists, but most of our products are made under the supervision of famous restaurants,” says Ayase. Our product development staff eat ramen all over Japan and pick out the ones they think are the best. If the plan is approved, we go to the actual stores and make a sales pitch. If the plan is approved, we then go door-to-door to the actual shops to sell the product. In many cases, they refused, saying, “We can’t reproduce it in a cup noodle! There is even a legend that there was a salesman who washed dishes and asked for permission to develop the product from the store owner (laughs).

(Laughs)” (Hayashi) Thanks to the efforts of the legendary salesman, the current success rate is said to be over 50%.

The price of products also shows how the industry has changed.

In the past, it was said that it would be tough to keep the price down to 300 yen, but with the success of the 300 yen Misokin and the popular Ichiran cup noodle chain (490 yen), and the recent rise in prices, high priced products are no longer uncommon.
Cup noodles are strong in times of disaster because they can be made simply by pouring hot water into a cup, and sales have exploded due to the demand for nest eggs from the COVID-19 crisis. They are also lower in calories than store-bought ramen noodles, and Momofuku Ando, the inventor of Chicken Ramen and Cup Noodle, lived to be 96 years old by eating instant noodles every day.

Eating instant noodles every day may seem a bit excessive, but cup noodles are a friend of the common people at any time of the day. The battle between the Nissin empire and the companies that follow it continues endlessly.

The cup noodle corner of a Seven-Eleven convenience store. Many products by Nissin, including Mongolian ramen Nakamoto, are on display.
The “Tokkami Cup Noodle” series was launched on September 11. Including the truffle flavor shown in the photo, there are four varieties available.
Nissin Foods’ Tokyo headquarters is located in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Is it just me, or does the building give the impression of an “empire”?

From the September 29, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Jiji Press (Nissin Foods Tokyo headquarters building)

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