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INTERVIEW

“Venture into India’s curry market at a cost of Rs 17.25 cr”
Monday, 21 October, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
IMG_1465.jpgJapan’s Otsuka Foods, a leader in the ready-to-eat segment, stormed into the Indian market  in May 2018. The company, headquartered at Bengaluru, is set to manufacture and market Bon Curry Pan, a popular Japanese snack. India’s young and willing-to-experiment market will spur the demand for the product, feels the company. With a population of 1.3 billion and rapid economic growth in recent years, dietary habits in India have changed greatly. The venture into India was to tap into this populous market, and provide a product that is delicious and safe for consumption and which is prepared using the company’s technological know-how in food innovation. Uematsu Hirokazu, managing director, along with Kamiike Shunsuke and Rakesh Somayya, vice-presidents, Otsuka Foods India, during an interaction with Nandita Vijay delve deeper into their India plans and more. Excerpts: 

Give us details on your company and forays into India?
We are a well known Japanese ready-to-eat giant. The company launched in 1968, its ‘Bon Curry’ which is the world’s first commercial retort pouch food product. We have opened our subsidiary division Otsuka Foods India in Bengaluru for manufacturing and marketing of Otsuka products. 

The venture into India’s curry market took place at a capital cost of Rs 17.25 crore. Although India is known as the home of curry, we are confident that it is an ideal take-off point to introduce the Japanese Bon Curry worldwide. 

What are the advantages of Indian market that would help your company to succeed here?
India is the suitable country to achieve our mission to introduce ‘Bon Curry’ brand to the world. With a population of 1.3 billion and rapid economic growth in recent years, dietary habits in India have changed greatly. The country has a dual income population which looks at convenient products at a price. Our venture into India was to tap into this populous market, and to provide food that is delicious and safe for consumption which is prepared by using our technological know-how in product innovation. It reinstates company’s philosophy that we are creating new products for better health worldwide. In fact, this is not the first time we are selling curry products overseas; we started business in China in year 2003. Therefore, we see India is an important market to grow and cannot be ignored.  
Throw more light on Bon Curry Pan.
Bon Curry Pan is a soft bread stuffed with mild Japanese curry, topped with breadcrumbs. This is one of the most popular Japanese snacks and is 100% vegetarian with few variants now like potato, onions, carrot paneer and chickpea. But efforts are on to launch non-veg versions as well. 

This category is a first-of-its-kind frozen food and a ready-to-eat snack which does not need to be cooked in any way. It can be taken directly from the freezer-to-microwave (FTM) and is ready to be served in just one minute. This happens because it is prepared using an advanced Japanese technology. The taste and texture remain same as freshly cooked. We have given an Indian twist in flavour to suit the palate here. 

Our  strategy is to develop most convenient and cost-effective food and beverages alternative for the thousands of customers who have limitation in their kitchens and are strapped for time to cook. No doubt, India market holds immense potential going by the educated workforce, global exposure and the interest to try international food offerings. We have seen that the snack has taken a liking not just to the millennial population but across age-groups.

What is the marketing strategy that you have laid out for the Indian market foray?
Initially, we launched these products in our own outlets in Bengaluru. These are stationed at the scores of information technology (IT) Parks, The World Trade Centre, Sony India Software Centre, multiplexes including Inox and at the Sakra Hospital, an Indo-Japanese healthcare provider. Observations on the consumption pattern at these locations indicated that people appreciated the texture and melting in the mouth soft bread stuffed with Japanese curry of Indian flavour. 

We are now firming up plans to make the snack to be made available at leading coffee and tea chains in the country. We would first consolidate our presence in Bengaluru before we embark to other cities. New Delhi and Mumbai are on the cards to ensure the snack is made available. In addition, efforts are on to enter the airline sector to offer this as an easy to consume snack on flights. 

The product is currently manufactured by a third-party production unit in Mumbai and Bengaluru. We will have our central kitchen and an own manufacturing unit in Bengaluru by the end of next year. 

Besides curry, we will also manufacture and sell other food and beverages in India. Bon Curry contains a curry paste in a retort pouch, can be eaten once the sauce is heated up without adding any preservative and additives. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, Otsuka Japan came out with Bon Curry 50 earlier this year, which had savoury taste of yellow onions with an addition of vegetables and meat into the recipe.

You are known for focus on healthy food. Comment.
In terms of healthy product innovation, Otsuka Foods, Japan, has started to sell Mannan Hikari. This is a pre-packaged rice developed by us. Now Mannan Hikari is a rice-shaped processed food derived from konnyaku. Consumers can easily control 33% calorie intake, and at the same time get more dietary fibre, simply by adding Mannan Hikari to the ordinary any rice that it usually consumed after it is microwaved for a few minutes. Mannan Hikari with Hokkaido-grown rice and is prepared with the famous spring water from the Kurobe River delta
 
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