According to The Asahi Shimbun today, specialty local ramen, udon and other noodles, seldom tried by most Japanese outside their home regions, are being devoured by hungry slurpers overseas, riding the wave of Japanese noodle culture.
Producers of the popular “bar ramen” instant noodle in Fukuoka, historic “Inaniwa udon” from Akita Prefecture and “kishimen” flat udon in Nagoya have all found increasing business opportunities overseas, thanks also to the cheaper yen.
To meet the increasing demand from overseas markets, Marutai Co., the Fukuoka-based producer of the bar ramen noodle, will increase production of the instant noodle product by 30 percent from October.
The company’s trademark product is a set of rehydratable noodles of Kyushu ramen, known for its thick pork flavour, bundled like "bars" in a package. It remains a perennial favourite among residents of the Kyushu region.
While the company recorded losses for two consecutive years through fiscal 2014 due to the stagnant sales of its cup noodle products, it expects to turn a profit for fiscal 2015, thanks to the brisk sales of its bar ramen line-up overseas.
The export value of the company's bar ramen products is expected to more than double this fiscal year from the previous year thanks to brisk sales in Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Company officials said it plans to make inroads to Malaysian and Singapore markets with bar ramen products in the near future.
Sato Yoske Co. in Yuzawa, Akita Prefecture, the manufacturer of traditional Inaniwa udon noodles, which operates restaurants mainly in Akita Prefecture, opened its second outlet in Taiwan in July.
The three overseas outlets, including one in Hong Kong, have enjoyed brisk sales although the menu and product prices are set higher than at domestic outlets. Sales from the overseas businesses now account for more than 10 percent of its total sales, company officials said.
Sagami Chain Co. in Nagoya, which operates Japanese restaurants mainly in the Tokai region, plans to make inroads into Vietnam with kishimen traditional flat udon noodles and other local foods in Nagoya next year.
The company has already opened seven restaurants in China, Thailand and Indonesia. As kishimen noodles proved to suit Europeans’ palates when they were served at the company’s booth at Expo Milano 2015 in August, Sagami Chain is now considering opening outlets in Europe.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan’s exports of noodle products, including instant ramen noodles, udon, “soba” buckwheat noodles and “somen” fine noodles, totalled 3.6 billion yen ($30 million) during the January-June period, up 20 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The export volume was the largest since the ministry started keeping such statistics in 2006.
“While Japanese noodle makers are expanding overseas production (to meet local demands), overseas consumers are increasingly preferring the genuine flavour of products that are made in Japan,” said a ministry official.
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