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Japanese instant noodles popular again

Mitsuo Ogasawara, executive managing director of Ogasawara Seifun flour milling company, shows a pack of “Kirin Ramen”.

Publication Date : 22-08-2013

 

After a long period of waiting on the shelf, “Kirin Ramen” instant noodles are recapturing Japan's interest.

With its retro packaging and simple Showa era (1926-1989) taste, Kirin Ramen has been gaining in popularity nationwide. Produced by Ogasawara Seifun flour milling company in Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture, the uniquely named instant noodles were once exclusively sold in the prefecture’s Nishi-Mikawa district.

Although one package containing six servings of ramen costs 500 yen (US$5)—relatively expensive compared to similar products—the firm already sold 1.3 million servings by April this year, breaking the previous record sold during the whole of 2012. And sales do not seem to be slowing down.

Mitsuo Ogasawara, 36, executive managing director of the company, said: “We didn’t expect the noodles would sell so well. Our employees are the most surprised.” In fact, because the company has struggled packaging the noodles to keep up with shipments, it has had to employ about 20 part-time workers since last summer, he said.

The company was founded by his great-grandfather in 1907, and his grandfather began selling soy-sauce flavoured Kirin Ramen in 1965. According to Ogasawara, his grandfather put a lot of thought into naming the product and hoped its popularity would be lengthy—like a giraffe’s neck (kirin means giraffe). In the mid-1970s, the company sold 1.2 million servings a year. However, its sales grew sluggish during the 1980s due to intensified competition with major instant noodle manufacturers. Finally, the company was forced to suspend production in 1995.

However, immediately after halting production, the company received a flood of inquiries from customers who wanted to know where they could buy the noodles. The company decided to bring back the noodles by switching from imported to domestic flour, and made a complete comeback in 2010.

After expanding into the nationwide market, the company also began selling the ramen online and its popularity grew through word of mouth.

The company has added miso- and salt-flavoured ramen to its product lineup. Last year, its seafood-flavored “Penguin Ramen” became a popular souvenir item after it was exclusively sold at Sunshine Aquarium in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. Continuing with the animal-themed ramen, the company launched a yuzu orange, soy-sauce based “Capybara Ramen” this spring for the Saitama Children’s Zoo in Higashi-Matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture.

The company now exports its products to Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States and France.

 

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