The latest business report on the front lines of the frozen foods industry] The COVID-19 crisis has brought about a drastic change in the industry! The “hot battle” for the leading role on the dining table | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The latest business report on the front lines of the frozen foods industry] The COVID-19 crisis has brought about a drastic change in the industry! The “hot battle” for the leading role on the dining table

Ajinomoto taking the high road / Nichirei Foods No. 1 in fried foods and sweets / Nissui, the oldest player in the industry / Eat & Foods collaborates with Osaka Ohsho / Maruha Nichiro battles with seafood / Nipun makes a breakthrough with one-plate set meals / Nissin has strong pasta products

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At supermarkets and convenience stores near the editorial office, the size of the frozen food section has increased 1.5 times from before Corona.

Frozen foods are just a few side dishes for lunch.

What shattered this FRIDAY reporter’s perception was “@FROZEN,” a frozen food specialty store on the first floor of “AEON STYLE Shin-Urayasu MONA,” just off JR Shin-Urayasu Station.

The store is crammed with as many as 1,500 frozen food items, including frozen bakery items and authentic Western-style dishes priced at over 3,000 yen, such as a Japanese black beef hamburger steak.

It was unthinkable for a store to carry only frozen foods. But in the past two to three years, the demand for frozen foods has exploded. The COVID-19 crisis made consumers realize the convenience and taste of frozen foods that can be eaten in the comfort of one’s own home. Their status as “snacks” and “gazillion meals,” which had been gradually built up even before Corona, has also been further solidified. There are currently only five @FROZEN stores in Japan, and I am sure there will be more in the future,” says Takemura Dai, a frozen food meister.

In fact, the average number of frozen foods before Corona was about 200 items at regular supermarkets and 300-400 items at large supermarkets, but now they have increased to 400-500 items and 700-1000 items, respectively.

The product that most clearly represents this change is actually “shaomai. Mr. Takemura continues.

Until now, frozen shaomai was made small to fill the space in a bento box. Ajinomoto Frozen Foods’ “The* Shumai” overturned this conventional wisdom. Each one is quite large, weighing 30 grams, and contains nine pieces. Coarsely ground Japanese pork and large cuts of bamboo shoots, onions, and shiitake mushrooms are used in abundance. The commercial of Shun Oguri eating a bowl of white rice with “The Shumai” was impressive, and this is a dish that can be eaten as a main side dish at the dinner table.

The product was launched in 2004, but the COVID-19 crisis has greatly increased its sales.

The Fried Rice” also boasts strong popularity. Although Ajinomoto Frozen Foods has only a small number of products, it is characterized by the fact that it devotes a large amount of resources to high-profile products. As symbolized by its unique commercials featuring big-name celebrities, Ajinomoto also has the ability to boost sales through outstanding branding and marketing. Above all, the company’s strength lies in its “dumplings” (annual sales of over 20 billion yen), which are said to be the best-selling frozen food for household use. The company’s commitment to this product is so great that it continues to make improvements even more than 50 years after its launch,” said Takeshi Nishikawa, a frozen food expert.

While many manufacturers are avoiding a head-on collision with Ajinomoto Frozen Foods and are not offering frozen dumplings, someone has emerged to challenge the competition with “dumplings. Frozen food expert Junko Yamamoto tells the following story.

Eat & Foods’ “Osaka Ohsho Gyoza with Wings” is making great strides. Both Osaka Ohsho and Eat & Foods are group companies of Eat & HD, and were originally one company. In 2006, this team created a technological innovation: gyoza dumplings that can be baked without the need for a lid. The impact of this product was so strong that annual sales of this product exceeded 10 billion yen in 2007. The gap with Ajinomoto’s “Gyoza” is rapidly closing. Osaka Ohsho’s collaboration with Ajinomoto, “Osaka Ohsho Open Fire Fried Rice,” is also doing well, and is a company that is growing in prominence.

In addition, Eat & Foods is also making a splash in the industry by capturing the demand for snacks and gutsy meals with “variants” that differ from Ajinomoto, which is taking the high road, such as “Osaka Ousho Runaway Back Fat Garlic Buta Gyoza.

On the other hand, Nichirei Foods, one of the top two companies in the industry, has a wide variety of hit products, including “Authentic Fried Rice,” the best-selling product in the frozen fried rice category, “Tokkara,” the best-selling product in the karaage category, “Imagawayaki,” the sole competitor in the sweets category, and “Crispy Beef Croquette,” the original microwave-safe croquette. Nichirei Foods has produced numerous hit products.

Nichirei Foods has succeeded in creating hit products with innovative ideas.

@FROZEN, located in an AEON store in Shin-Urayasu, Tokyo, where one might expect to find only housewives, but there were also men in their 40s.
High-priced frozen foods are also popular these days. Bread is flash-frozen so that it does not lose moisture and tastes freshly baked when defrosted.

Guerrilla warfare utilizing the strengths of each company

Last year, we built a new frozen noodle line at our Yamagata Plant, which had been producing room-temperature products such as retort curry. The first new product we created there was “Chilled Chinese noodles” with ice on top. Ice is less affected by microwaves from microwave ovens and remains melted even after dunking. This ice cools the warm noodles and completes the chilled chuka. This revolutionary idea was very well received. Perhaps seeing the potential in noodles, Ajinomoto is expected to make a further leap forward this year with the launch of “Scented Noodle Gomoku Ankake Yakisoba,” featuring Mio Imada in the commercial. However, neither Ajinomoto nor Nichirei is off the mark. There are a number of mid-tier companies that are aiming to advance to the top of the industry,” Yamamoto said.

Following the two leaders is Nissui, the oldest company in the industry, which created Japan’s first frozen food, “Strawberry Sorbet,” in 1931.

The company’s classic product is the “Big, Big Yaki Onigiri” (grilled rice ball),” said Yamamoto. The rice itself is delicious, and the simple soy sauce flavor never gets old. Long-selling products such as Wagaya no Menbo Boast Chanpon, which contains a lot of vegetables, have won over repeat customers,” said Nishikawa.

Nissui’s rival is Maruha Nichiro, which also has a fishery company in its background.

Maruha Nichiro was established in 2007 through the merger of the Maruha Group and Nichiro. Maruha’s predecessor was Taiyo Fisheries, so it has strong seafood procurement capabilities and boasts stable sales of seafood products such as ‘Shrimp & Tartar Sauce’ and ‘Fried Horse Mackerel,'” said Nishikawa.

If Maruha Nichiro has an advantage in its field of expertise, marine products, Nissin Foods Frozen Foods, which has Nissin Foods, the largest manufacturer of cup noodles, as a group company, specializes in noodles.

In addition to the “Mochitto Nama Pasta” series, which offers a texture similar to fresh noodles, frozen ramen noodles are also popular. Nissin Chinese Shirunashi Tantanmen Large Noodle Noodle” is a popular product with annual sales exceeding 2 billion yen.

Like Nissin Foods Frozen, Nipun, a major flour miller that has established a presence in the noodle market, has created a new source of revenue by making a groundbreaking attempt to combine the post-Corona “one-person meal” demand with health consciousness.

The “One-Prepared Meal” series, which offers both a staple meal and side dishes in one product, is nutritionally balanced and ideal for those who cannot cook but are still concerned about their health. Riding the ‘one-plate boom’ led by Nipun, Maruha Nichiro, Nissui, and Nichirei have also introduced similar products, creating a local battle for the ‘one-plate’ category in response to all-in demand,” says Yamamoto.

While the two strongest brands reign supreme with their signature products of gyoza and fried rice, the followers are rising to the occasion with their own weapons and waging a guerrilla war with their own idea products. After Corona, the battle in the frozen food industry becomes hotter and hotter.

Frozen dumplings require time-consuming baking using a frying pan. Hopefully, technological advances will make it possible to eat them in a lentil pan. ……

From the November 24, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

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