Interviewing Mr. Hidetsugu Muraki of Organic Foods Life -part 2-

Mr. Hidetsugu Muraki
Mr. Muraki is one of the pioneering developers of Japanese gluten-free products. With the mottos of safety-first and production with care, his company is now in its 16th year working on gluten-free and organic products of different varieties. We talked about current trends in vegan and gluten free ingredients as well as prospects for the future.

Q: Can you tell us about your challenges with new products?

We are putting the most effort into our bread products. Normal bread loaves are our best sellers, which we sell wholesale to hotels and retailers. Second to bread is sorghum. Sorghum is one of the five most important cereal crops in the world and is also said to be very healthy. We have been dealing in sorghum products for the past ten years. However, it hasn’t been easy to make long lasting business deals with sorghum, even after sending out samples. This is largely because of its limited appeal. In addition to being not as well-known as quinoa and other “superfoods”, it can be difficult for chefs to prepare.

I have now decided to launch a new product called “pop sorghum”. Pop sorghum is like popcorn, but with popped sorghum seeds. The sorghum imported into Japan till now has come with the husks already taken off. Now for the first time, it looks like we will be able to obtain unprocessed sorghum in its original state. We have also been working hard on banana flour products. You can make things like brownies with 100 percent banana flour, a material known to be very good for the body. But like sorghum, it is still not well known and is difficult for the average customer to understand how to use, which can complicate business transactions.

Though it may be difficult for customers to understand these products now, I do feel an increased need for vegan and gluten free products, even compared to one or two years ago. I can say this for sure because our clients’ consumption rates have been growing.

Q: I understand you have started a new line of business. Can you tell us about it?

We’ve began a new franchise business to reflect the growing needs of our customers. The first store opened in Kiryu City (Gunma Prefecture) and I’d also like to expand to Tokyo. We may open one in Myanmar as well. Though there has not been much of a demand for gluten free products in Asia, I’m thinking about selling rice bread in Myanmar because rice is a staple there.

Q: What is your vision for the future?

Things like “gluten free booms” or “vegan booms” are only just passing trends, so we have to find a way to maintain the market after the “boom” has passed. With gluten free, people with wheat allergies are increasing significantly. People trying gluten free as a health fad may eventually abandon the diet. But given that there are more and more people who physically can't eat gluten, I don’t believe we’ll need to worry too much about raising productivity. Rather, I think the key will be to focus on these people who struggle to find items without gluten and providing them with gluten-free alternatives that are just as delicious as their normal counterparts.