Vitafoods Asia 2017

Entering Japan: New supplement and functional food players must entice 'brand-loyal' older consumers

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Supplement firms looking to enter Japan must appeal to its elderly. ©iStock
Supplement firms looking to enter Japan must appeal to its elderly. ©iStock

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Supplement and functional food firms looking to enter the Japanese market with new products tailored for the ageing population must overcome high levels of brand loyalty to stand any chance of success, according to one expert.

The rise of fortified foods — particularly in the probiotic space — and an ageing population in Japan have seen many foreign companies try to break into the country's supplement and functional food markets.

It is a pattern that has been observed by business consultancy Sensing Asia, which was established in Japan in 2014.

At the recent Vitafoods Asia, Sensing Asia's president and CEO Rieko Shofu spoke at a conference where she elaborated on consumer trends in Japan, as well as ASEAN and India. 

Apart from regulatory hurdles typical of the country, which has long been insistent on the highest possible standards, its ageing population also presents plenty of opportunities and challenges to potential exporters in the supplement market.

Japan's elderly have a tendency to be brand- and product-loyal, meaning supplement firms hoping to cater to them must be able to introduce products that can convince them to switch brands.

Functional changes

Now that more manufacturers are making use of Japan's more relaxed Food with Function Claims​ (FFC), however, consumers both young and old will be hard-pressed to ignore the sudden boom in new supplements and functional products, she said.

More than 1,000 products have been launched with FFC claims since being introduced in 2015.

Shofu said, "FFC is growing faster than the (more stringent) Food for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU). This will continue, because consumers recognise very little difference between FFC and FOSHU, and also because manufacturers can launch new FFC products much faster than FOSHU products.

"This contributes to the growing number of products in the FFC category, resulting in fierce competition."

She added, however, that because of this, value-added pricing may not necessarily work for FFC products.  

Less stress, less pressure

In terms of what's new in Japan's supplement and functional food space as a result of FFC, yogurt-based products have been popping up with claims based on preventing constipation and reducing visceral fat.

Chocolate-based products, claiming to lower stress and reduce fat and sugar absorption, are also proving popular.

Shofu added that "in addition to tomato juice products, new vegetable juices for lowering blood pressure will be released this year"​.

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