The Yomiuri ShimbunNAGANO — Major Japanese miso manufacturers are expanding into Thailand.
As the domestic market for the bean paste — a staple of Japanese cuisine — shrinks due to changes in Japanese dietary habits, companies are seeking to capitalize on the popularity of Japanese food in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Marukome Co., based in the major miso producing area of Nagano, opened its first overseas antenna shop in a commercial complex in Bangkok in February.
Called Hacco Labo (fermentation laboratory), the 63-square-meter store sells a variety of Japanese-made products including amazake, a sweet drink made from fermented rice, and miso.
Local Thai staff explain the products and cooking methods to customers, while offering samples.
“We want to deliver authentic Japanese cuisine overseas by taking advantage of fermentation techniques unique to Japan,” Makoto Ikushima, head of the company’s overseas marketing department, said.
Noting that many Japanese restaurants operate in Thailand, Marukome established a local subsidiary in 2013.
The company has been selling its products mainly to restaurants, but decided to open an antenna shop amid rising recognition of miso.
“I want miso to take root in Thai homes.” Ikushima said.
Miso maker Hanamaruki Foods Inc., based in Ina, Nagano Prefecture, is building a plant in Thailand that will become a production base for its popular Liquid Shio Koji (liquid salty koji malt).
The 16,000-square-meter plant is scheduled to start operations in January 2020, with a target of ¥500 million in overseas sales in 2022.
The company also operates a distribution warehouse in Vietnam, and hopes to increase exports to the United States and Europe by establishing a stable supply system for Liquid Shio Koji in Southeast Asia.
The company plans to expand its sales channels in Southeast Asia by highlighting the fact that it does not use additives or chemical seasonings.
“It also contributes to the export of Japanese culture,” an official from Hanamaruki said.
According to the Japan Federation of Miso Manufacturers Cooperatives, domestic shipments of miso have been decreasing annually.
In 2009, more than 440,000 tons were shipped domestically, falling to 410,000 tons in 2018.
It is believed that the westernization of Japanese diets has led to a decrease in the consumption of rice, which is usually served with miso soup.
Exports of miso are rising steadily, however, with washoku, representing traditional Japanese cuisine, added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2013.
According to Finance Ministry data, miso exports totaled 17,000 tons in 2018.