Novelty is key in Japanese bakery and cereals market

Posted by Josette Dunn on 20th August 2010

Changing socio-demographic structure and increasing western influence are providing impetus to new product launches in bakery and cereals in Japan.

Although mature, with close to 600 new product launches in 2009, the bakery and cereals market in Japan is still dynamic with manufacturers relentlessly attempting to incorporate novelty in product offerings. One of the key factors responsible for this is the evolving demographic situation in Japan.

Long working hours, changing household structure and growing prominence of nuclear and single occupancy households have all contributed to the growing popularity of breads & rolls and cakes & pastries that are quick and easy to consume even on-the-go unlike a traditional Japanese meal, which takes time to both prepare and consume.

Other factors such as rising western influence too has had a significant role to play in encouraging Japanese consumers to perceive such products not just as snacks or indulgences but as ideal substitutes to full-fledged meals.

Another important factor responsible for this change in perception is the attempt by manufacturers to incorporate health benefits in these products to ensure that it appeals to the sensibilities of Japanese consumers, who are known to be health conscious. In fact, phrases such as “high vitamins”, “high fiber” and “no preservatives” were some of the most commonly found claims/tags on new products launched in 2009.

However, addressing the nutritional element in foodstuffs is just one of the many areas manufacturers are focusing on.

“Intense competition and an increasingly demanding consumer have forced manufacturers to be innovative in virtually every aspect including flavors, positioning and even packaging,” says Arvind Arun, Analyst Datamonitor and author of the report “Product Insights: Bakery and Cereals in Japan”.

While chocolate was the most widely used single flavor, it was in fact a blend of different flavors that was found in most number of products. The blend or the combination of different flavors is rising in popularity primarily because consumers are actively seeking variety and uniqueness in newly launched products.

Further, as manufacturers continually attempt to break away from the crowd and standout, novelty is being seen in positioning too with licensing and co-branding of products gaining in prominence. Nearly 40% of newly launched products were licensed in 2009. “As manufacturers increasingly attempt to attract and reach out to a specific target audience, endorsements by well known celebrities and institutions is becoming commonplace and their names and logos are being increasingly used on the cover of products,” adds Arun, based in India.

Packaging too has become an important area of focus as manufacturers realize that different pack sizes are required to cater to different segments (one-person households, nuclear families, joint families) and for different occasions (parties, on-the-go consumption, working lunch etc). Additionally, good packaging plays an important role in increasing the shelf life of products.

This is particularly relevant in the case of easily perishable products that do not last for more than a few days. “Increasing shelf life encourages bulk purchases and, since shopping occasions have fallen owing to lack of time, retailers have understood that the shelf life of a product is an important parameter influencing purchasing decisions,” opines Arvind.

While retail sales of bakery and cereal products is expected to grow at a slow and sluggish pace, Japan will continue to find itself in the list of top 10 nations with most new products launched in the future. However, as consumers increasingly cut back on spending, a vast majority of these new launches will be in the economy price range. “As competition increases and as consumers become more discerning, manufacturers will have to constantly conjure new ways and means to make their products more desirable,” concludes Arun.