GLUTEN-FREE BOOM -in the Runup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics-
Food trends that are attracting increasing attention now include gluten-free, vegan, superfood, organic, and environment-friendly produce. As the 2020 Tokyo Olympics nears, numbers of foreign tourists are surging, boosted by Japan’s inbound tourism promotion policy. The diversi ed food-related requests the tourists bring with them, and how to handle them, are becoming a hot topic. Efforts by hotels, restaurants, and cafes (HORECA) to meet new food needs, the handling of gluten-free products in supermarkets, and initiatives at B2B shows, are all getting increasingly active.
Changes in HORECA and retail stores
According to major metropolitan hotels and restaurants, there has been dramatic growth in recent years in customers with food allergies asking about meals, and in foreign tourists requesting things like gluten-free pasta and bread. For two months, the buffet of a popular Tokyo hotel is offering a menu based on the concept of “healthy, beauty, fresh”, with special attention to gluten-free ingredients. After that, it will publish a recipe book. Another hotel offered special menus using “superfoods” at all its restaurants, bars, and lounges for two months in summer. The menus were very popular with hotel guests and the general public alike. These days, most of the hotels in Tokyo that are used by many foreign tourists and business people are organized so that they can immediately meet requests for gluten-free bread and muffins, even if those items do not appear on the menu. In fact, hotels and restaurants appear to be shifting their attention to sourcing gluten-free ingredients and finding stable suppliers in future.
Western countries have more people with wheat allergies than Japan, and such allergies are becoming a major problem. A significant number of foreign residents of Japan have celiac disease or gluten allergy. Where are they supposed to find gluten-free foods? A visit to National Azabu Supermarket, which has many customers among foreign residents of Japan, shows that besides familiar products like pasta and hot cake mix, there is a strong lineup of gluten- free products like crackers and biscuits, bagels, waffles, sponge cakes, frozen bread, and frozen pizza.
Hidetsugu Muraki is president of Organic Foods Life, a pioneer of the gluten-free field in Japan, which has been developing and producing gluten-free foods since 2003. He says “gluten-free and organic have been getting increasingly close together while growing, and vegan food has been expanding at the same time. This market will keep on growing, as these product types become interlinked and influence each other”. Organic Foods Life produces over 120 gluten-free food items.
Trends in trade shows and related groups
Yayoi Forbes, president of the Gluten Free Life Association, says “Four or five years ago, you had to search for restaurants with gluten-free menu items, but these days you can sometimes just go into a restaurant and ask, and find they have a gluten-free menu”. She adds, “Starbucks, from America, the leading gluten-free country, has gluten-free energy bars on the counter and gluten-free cookies in the showcase. They taste the same as regular cookies. Gluten free in Japan will not be a transient boom, but will probably turn into a necessary option in our ordinary diets in future”. She founded the Gluten Free Life Association in December 2013 to relieve the unwellness and emotional stress of food allergy patients. The number of patients is rising by at least 10,000 a year, due to changes in living environments and lifestyles. The Association provides advice on how to solve health problems by practicing gluten- free dietary methods. Other than people with gluten allergy and gluten insufficiency, it serves people with problems like difficult skin, weak digestion with constipation or diarrhea, unexplained malaise, and fatigue with difficulty maintaining concentration.
Hoteres Japan has added a new “Natural Food Products” exhibit zone
The 45th International Hotel and Restaurant Show (Hoteres Japan), which will take place at Tokyo Big Site from the 21st to the 24th of February, 2017, has added a new “Natural Food Products” exhibit zone. During the show, a special event stage with capacity for an audience of 300 will be used to present cooking demonstration events. Four chefs will be invited to show how they use gluten-free, organic, and vegan ingredients. The four chefs, all active in the industry, will present demonstrations of cookery for different situations. Visitors will be provided with tasting samples and recipes on a first come, first served basis. The event is scheduled for the 22nd of February, the second day of the show, which is expected to draw exhibits from 850 companies and 57,000 visitors. The Japan Management Association also organizes Foodex Japan, Asia’s largest show in the field, and it will continue to offer an Organic and Wellness exhibit zone, carrying on from the previous show. The size of the exhibit has expanded from last year, and it is expected to draw 3,250 exhibitor companies and 77,000 visitors. It will take place at Makuhari Messe from the 7th to the 10th of March, 2017.