From cradle to grave, Japan’s Kewpie adapts menu to feed aging nation

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From cradle to grave, Japan's Kewpie adapts menu to feed aging nationTOKYO – Back in 1960, Japan’s Kewpie Corp began selling canned baby food, sensing a chance to catch a wave young families raising kids in an economy roaring back to growth after the devastation World War .

Almost 55 years later, the Tokyo-based company sees a new opportunity opening up in rapidly ageing Japan as parents brought kids up on Kewpie approach sunset years – what calls “nursing care food” for the elderly.

Kewpie says ’s on the brink turning a profit on a range stewed or pureed ready-to-eat meals called “Gentle Menu”, currently sold in specialist sections drugstores and a small number of supermarkets. Served in plastic pouches, they’re aimed at the growing numbers of elderly Japanese have difficulty chewing and swallowing, but crave the taste of favorites like beef sukiyaki.

Known for its signature baby mascot and mayonnaise, Kewpie estimates now accounts for roughly 70 percent sales in a niche food market in Japan worth nearly $30 million. That number is dwarfed by Kewpie’s annual revenue close to $5 billion, but growth is expected to be swift: the market nearly doubled in the last four years, according to market research firm Fuji Keizai, and government estimates say it’s potentially worth tens billions of dollars.

With limited distribution and money being spent on advertising, “Gentle Menu” is unprofitable for now. But Tsutomu Morota, heads Kewpie’s healthcare food unit, says it will probably become profitable next year.

“What we need to do is to make it easier for consumers to access our goods by securing stores that sell our products. We need to work on direct marketing, which includes home deliveries,” Morota told Reuters. “We want to strengthen our brand by introducing it into various places, like nursing homes and restaurants.”

With one in four in the country above the age of 65, Kewpie’s gambit comes as Japanese consumer goods face growing pressure to find new products to stimulate domestic demand, or exports – or both. In 2012, Unicharm Corp, Japan’s biggest diaper maker said its sales of diapers for adults topped those for babies for the first time.

Kewpie and other makers of food for the elderly say they’re concentrating on boosting the domestic market for now, and that variations in international food preferences make direct exports a limited prospect. But the expertise they’re developing is attracting interest from overseas: Thai and South Korean researchers, government officials and food makers have already visited Japan to find more about the of food for the elderly.


The company that built its fortune on selling jars of mayonnaise in 1920s Japan has learned from experience over the decades since it started selling baby food that it can take time to turn into a product people will buy. [eap_ad_2] Kewpie first tried selling food for the elderly to hospitals in the late 1980s, packaging the contents in the same bottles they used to sell baby food. The product flopped.

A decade later, Kewpie came back, this time marketing to consumers for use at home. It has also lowered prices, increased the variety of food on offer and set to build a more appetizing brand, naming the product line “Gentle Menu” and using the slogan “The joy of eating” in its advertising.

Each serving now costs 180 yen ($1.76), a sharp drop from 300 yen in 1999. It also offers more than 60 different products compared with just eight at the outset, although the company admits some have been slow to catch on, like its jellied scrambled eggs.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture is bullish about prospects for a it believes could help support the country’s beleaguered farm sector. The ministry projects that if everyone in Japan above the age of 65 were to spend on average $13 a day on food – a projection food industry executives take with a hefty dose of salt – the market would be worth $24 billion.

Alongside questions about older people’s food budgets, Kewpie is still grappling with problematic distribution. Japanese supermarkets experimented with stocking food for the elderly in regular food sections more than a decade ago, but pulled the offerings when they failed to sell.