NODA, 3 Dec 2019:
Traditional Japanese soy sauce, an essential accompaniment to sushi, is no longer dependent on the dish – or at least Kikkoman, the biggest producer of the product worldwide, would like to think so.
“I have heard that some people enjoy soy sauce with ice cream, cheese or chocolate. It is important that every place in the world finds a way of adapting it to their traditional cuisine,” Kikkoman president and CEO Noriaki Horikiri said in a recent interaction with journalists.
Kikkoman has production plants spread over China, Singapore, the US and the Netherlands and its sales outside Japan account for 70% of overall sales, according to data released by the company.
“Our biggest overseas market is North America, where we don’t have actual competition in the soy sauce sector,” said Horikiri, adding that Europe was the next growing market.
The popularisation of sushi and other Japanese food all over the world has helped soy sauce become a condiment widely available in supermarkets abroad, but the company acknowledges markets such as Latin America and Africa have been largely out of reach.
Paradoxically – while overseas sales and exports have doubled in the last eight years – in Japan, the annual consumption of soy sauce dropped to seven litese per person in 2018, down from around 10 litres per person 30 years ago.
The decline in the domestic market – which the company attributes to Westernisation of the Japanese diet, simplification of cooking and the trend of eating out – has been compensated by the boom abroad, where sales have grown at an average of 7.6% since 1974.
Kikkoman has the unique distinction of being the only food sector company in Japan to run a private hospital, situated in the city of Noda, northeast of Tokyo, where the firm was founded 102 years ago.
The company claims Kikkoman General Hospital offers “the healthiest hospital food in entire Japan” – using condiments produced by the company – to patients of the area suffering from different ailments, including dementia and cancer.
One of them is Micho Kanegaki, 79, who has spent two weeks in the hospital due to a knee injury, and who told reporters the food at the hospital was better than what she cooked at home because it was better researched and more healthy, although she would add more salt to her own food.
Noboru Araii, another 79-year-old admitted due to a rectal condition, said the food was “smooth,” adding that he wanted to live until the age of 100.
According to the company, the origins of the Kikkoman soy sauce date back to the middle of the 17th century. But it was only in 1917 that eight families which produced the condiment joined together to form the company – which was initially called Noda Shoyu, a name which was later adopted for the city that grew around the manufacturing unit.
In 1862, when the business had not yet taken the shape of a company, the sauce-makers opened medical clinics for employees and their families, which later morphed into the hospital that continues today.
Since 1908 the company has been the official soy sauce suppliers to the Imperial House of Japan and began their overseas ventures in 1957 in the US.