Total War Among Chicken Ramen, Nissin Raoh, Maruchan, Sapporo Ichiban, and Others for the Strongest Instant Noodle Brand | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Total War Among Chicken Ramen, Nissin Raoh, Maruchan, Sapporo Ichiban, and Others for the Strongest Instant Noodle Brand

Cheaper than cup noodles and easier to arrange! Nissin Foods "Chicken Ramen" & "Ra-oh", Toyo Suisan "Maruchan Shomen", Sanyo Foods "Sapporo Ichiban", Meisei Foods "Menjin

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Noritake Kinashi (62) and Nana Mori (22) are appearing in commercials for “Sapporo Ichiban.” Mori’s refreshing singing voice is particularly memorable in the ad.

Once again, it sold out the same day.

At the end of May, the cup noodles “Misokin,” supervised by popular YouTuber HIKAKIN (35), were restocked nationwide at Seven-Eleven, causing a major stir. Issues such as hoarding and high-priced resale emerged. Instant cup noodles, which can be eaten immediately with just hot water and require no dishes, are considered the champions of affordable foods — many readers likely think so. However, currently, bag noodles are making significant strides, surpassing cup noodles in sales momentum.

According to “Nikkei POS Information,” which gathers sales data from supermarkets nationwide, the growth rate in sales value of instant bag noodles increased by 6.1% compared to the same month last year, exceeding the 5.1% of cup noodles (as of March ’24).

Unlike cup noodles, bag noodles require a process of boiling and serving before they can be eaten. They can be considered somewhat “inconvenient” compared to cup noodles. Yet, why are they still increasing in sales? Mr. Yamato Ichiro, an instant noodle hunter, explains.

“The major factor is undoubtedly affordability. Bag noodles typically consist mainly of wheat flour without many ingredients. Wheat flour has controlled prices, making it more stable in cost compared to other imported goods. Additionally, bag noodles have less packaging space and can be loaded in larger quantities on trucks, thus reducing transportation costs. In contrast, cup noodles contain various ingredients besides noodles, each individually packaged, and their containers are larger relative to the volume, making them more expensive than bag noodles. With increased time spent at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a trend of enjoying bag noodles by customizing toppings and other arrangements.”

Recent popularity of K-pop has also boosted the bag noodle market.

“South Korea is the world’s second-largest instant noodle consumer country after Vietnam, with the majority being bag noodles. Bag noodles are frequently discussed in K-pop artists’ talks, and scenes of them eating on programs are commonplace. Japanese youths, influenced by watching these scenes on YouTube, have started to eat bag noodles as well.” 

When it comes to the world’s first bag noodles, it’s often mentioned that Nissin Foods’ “Chicken Ramen” holds that title. However, the company that has long been at the forefront of the industry, rooted in a noodle manufacturing company in Gunma Prefecture, is Sanyo Foods with their “Sapporo Ichiban” brand. They launched the “Shoyu” flavor in ’66, “Miso Ramen” in ’68, and “Salt Ramen” in ’71. Riding the wave of the Do-san-ko Ramen boom at the time and the Hokkaido boom sparked by the Sapporo Olympics in ’72, the company quickly grew to become Japan’s top bag noodle company.

“The soup of ‘Salt Ramen’ is so distinct that you can tell immediately even if you drink it blindfolded, with a sharp flavor akin to spices used in curry. They use noodles suited to each soup: soy sauce for ‘Shoyu’ flavor, miso for ‘Miso Ramen,’ and incorporate yam flour into the noodles for ‘Salt Ramen,’ creating a unique texture,” noted instant ramen critic Mr. Sokusai Oyama

Even in today’s bag noodle sales rankings, “Salt Ramen” holds the top spot, with “Miso Ramen” following closely behind, showing the continued popularity of the “Sapporo Ichiban” series.

Since its release in ’58 and ranking third in sales, “Chicken Ramen” and the ’66 release of “Sapporo Ichiban” have dominated. The era of these two giants, with their flagship products, lasted nearly half a century until the 2010s. However, in ’11, a revolutionary figure emerged in the bag noodle industry.

The “Maruchan Shock” Effect

“Maruchan Seimen,” introduced by Toyo Suisan, sent shockwaves through the industry. It elevated instant noodles from being perceived as light snacks or late-night meals to a full-fledged “meal.” The difference between bag noodles and ramen served in restaurants lies in the texture of the noodles and the flavor of the soup. Toyo Suisan utilized a patented technique called the “fresh noodle, stay delicious method,” where the cut noodles are dried as they are, preserving the chewy texture inherent to fresh noodles and reproducing firmness (koshi). Additionally, by using liquid rather than powder for the soup, they achieved a soy sauce flavor.
To bring the taste closer to traditional local Chinese restaurant flavors, they assembled the soup using only chicken fat, pork extract, and vegetable extracts, deliberately avoiding their usual seafood flavors. This approach proved successful in creating a product that can be considered epoch-making, following in the footsteps of “Chicken Ramen.” (Statement by ramen enthusiast Kanda Takero)

Dubbed the “Maruchan Shock,” Toyo Suisan’s brilliant move was followed by intense competition in product development among various companies. Among them, Meisei Foods, known for their 1966 release of “Meisei Charmera,” achieved a “Thick Noodle Revolution” with their 2020 release of “Menjin.”

“Instant noodles and thick noodles don’t naturally go well together. The thicker the noodles, the longer they need to boil, and the longer they boil, the harder it is to maintain their texture. However, Meisei succeeded by controlling the amount of air in the noodles and developed the ‘New Three-Layer Thick Noodle Method,’ where a single noodle is composed of three layers. This method replicated the texture of thick noodles eaten in restaurants while keeping the boiling time to just 7 minutes. The development of thick noodles has led to an increase in variations of soup flavors for instant noodles. For example, rich tonkotsu soy sauce ramen, known as ‘Iekei,’ is a popular genre. However, with thin noodles, it was difficult to balance the noodles against the presence of the soup. The current trend of thick noodles with rich soup in bag noodles can be attributed to ‘Menjin’ created by Meisei,” explained Mr. Yamato as mentioned earlier.

San-Yo Foods, boasting the overwhelming number one brand, faces strong competition from Toyo Suisan and Meisei Foods, who have expanded their sales through technological innovation. Meanwhile, the original instant noodle pioneer, Nissin Foods, maintains its industry-leading position through comprehensive strength.

“In a move echoing the success of ‘Maruchan Seimen,’ Nissin launched ‘Nissin Raoh’ in 2012, promoting its texture as ‘just like fresh noodles.’ When Meisei sparked the thick noodle boom, Nissin responded in 2020 with ‘Nissin Foods Kore Zettai Umaiyatsu♪,’ released alongside ‘Menjin.’ This reflects Nissin’s competitive spirit as the ‘unwilling-to-lose king,’ unwilling to let rivals dominate the market alone.
Of course, Nissin isn’t just following in others’ footsteps. Like Meisei and Toyo Suisan, Nissin may initiate a revolution in the near future. Rumors suggest they could integrate their cup-style new product ‘Complete Meshi,’ containing all 33 essential nutrients for humans, into bag noodles. If realized, this could create an unbeatable bag noodle with excellent cost performance, texture, and nutrition, potentially overwhelming other brands. Given Nissin’s track record, it’s likely we’ll see the first of these within a few years.” (As mentioned earlier)

As the defending champion facing attacks of tradition and innovation, the bag noodle industry is set for a “Four Noodle War” in this thriving market.

Masayoshi Yamazaki (52) has deep ties with Nissin, appearing at the 30th anniversary live event for ‘Raoh’ and providing music for commercials.
When it comes to Myojo’s product ‘Charmera,’ a commercial featuring Suzu Hirose (25) dressed in a black cat costume gained popularity.
‘Maruchan Seimen’ features a serious CM with the prominent actor duo Koji Yakusho (68) and Fumi Nikaido (29). Their seriousness is palpable.
Ryoko Yonekura (48) stars in the CM for ‘ZUBAAAN!,’ slurping down thick noodles with a texture like aged noodles, leaving a lasting impression.
Recently, there’s been a small boom in local bag noodles. Particularly popular are those from Kyushu, such as Kagoshima, Fukuoka, Saga, and Oita.
The immensely popular Korean product ‘Shin Ramyun’ (Nongshim), known as a bag noodle powerhouse, is also gaining traction among young people in Japan.

From the June 21, 2024 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Sankei Shimbun

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