Meat sales to Japan ready meals segment on the up

A bento lunchbox is a popular ready meal in Japanese cuisine

Large meat producers in Japan are eyeing the ready meal sector as a key income stream following increased demand for such products. 

A November report by market researcher Euromonitor International has predicted that ready meal sales in Japan will grow 4% year-on-year during 2016, “driven by continuous lifestyle changes among Japanese consumers who are increasingly busy and seeking convenience.

Industry insiders expect this trend to continue, causing manufacturers of pork – the most popular animal protein in the country – to especially profit from this new demand stream.

Itoham Yonekyu Holdings is one major food company targeting annual sales of 200bn yen ($1.69bn) in side dishes or complete pre-made meals by the 2020 fiscal year, up nearly 80% from fiscal 2015. The company aims to make the ready-made segment a key part of its business, providing operating profits growth of 50%. One quarter of its investment in facilities and equipment over the next five years will be made to support its growth in these products.

Continued convenience

With more women in the workforce, convenience will continue to be an important factor [in people’s lives],” said Hirotsugu Kobayashi, a spokesperson for Itoham Yonekyu. “Further growth can be expected in ready-made/take home meals where we believe our presence is still low.

Euromonitor’s recent report supports this hypothesis: “Ready meals will continue to play an important role in the country as consumer lifestyles become increasingly hectic and the number of single-person and dual-income households in the country rise. As busy consumers in Japan increasingly seek—and prefer—convenience over price, products offer a faster and easier way to provide meals, and their popularity is likely to increase.

Japan’s Prima Meat Packers is also expanding in the sector after solid sales from its ready-made dishes at convenience stores has boosted profits for this pork-focused company – expected to record a net profit of 7bn yen (US$59.2m) in the 2016 fiscal year, an increase of 10% year on year.

Ready meal boost

The company sells products to convenience stores, both non-branded or labelled as own brands.

The business is two-way: convenience stores approach us to make products and we offer our products to them,” a spokesman explained. “Convenience stores are increasing in number in Japan so we want to boost our ready-made product sales at both new and existing stores.

The company has also experienced dramatic sales in ready-cooked ham sausage in supermarkets and convenience stores during 2016, with the spokesman stressing the importance of achieving balanced growth across all retail outlets.

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