Japanese consumers gobble up ‘mystery meat’ in Nissin cup noodles as dish sells like hotcakes

Those spongy lumps of uncertain origin in instant cup noodles? Turns out consumers in Japan love them just as much as the main attraction.

Nissin Food Products Co. now sells one of its ingredients as “mystery meat,” a term popularised by customers of the cheap, quick meals. Each 200-gram (7-ounce) box – equivalent to 47 cup noodles’ worth of the chunks – retails for 650 yen (US$4). On the back are various suggested recipes for the rehydrated protein, including pasta bolognese, a hamburger, or stuffed peppers.

After its invention by Nissin’s founder Momofuku Ando 66 years ago, instant noodles have taken over the world, with the market projected to almost double to US$90.8 billion in 2032 from the prior decade. For Tokyo-based Nissin, tapping into new trends is a way to respond to consumers in a market that now offers a wide range of choices.

“I knew the new product would become popular, but I didn’t expect it to blow up like it did,” said Tomohiro Kono, of Nissin’s marketing department. “Customers have told us through our website and on social media that they want to eat a lot of this one ingredient.”

After the term became popular on social media, Nissin started to use mystery meat in its marketing in 2016, eventually offering cup noodles with extra portions of the substance. At the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama, a special dish with mystery meat heaped atop rice is available on weekends and holidays for a limited time. Despite the moniker, the recipe isn’t a big secret: it’s a combination of minced pork, vegetables and ingredients derived from soybeans.

At Nissin’s web store, some 600 boxes available online sold out in about three hours, quicker than most other new products, according to the company. About one month after its release in March, many supermarkets had already reported that they were out of stock.

“Of course we want this product to sell, but we also hope that people will buy more cup noodles because of this,” Kono said, noting that the box is often placed next to the cup noodles at supermarkets so that consumers will be encouraged to buy them together.

One risk that the industry faces is growing awareness of health among consumers, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Ada Li. One box of mystery meat has more than 1,200 calories on its own.



‘Skip the soup’: Hong Kong watchdog shares practical tips on enjoying ‘healthier’ instant noodles

‘Skip the soup’: Hong Kong watchdog shares practical tips on enjoying ‘healthier’ instant noodles

Nissin has begun rolling out more health-conscious products such as cup noodles with higher protein and less carbohydrates. Kono, whose job consists of trying different mystery meat recipes and brainstorming ideas, said the company is also working on some other new, exciting products.

“As consumers become increasingly selective with their purchases, differentiated products can increase brand loyalty while allowing the company to avoid competing directly on price,” Li said.

“Japan’s instant noodle bellwethers not only have to deal with fierce competition from the smaller, niche players, but also have to compete against food delivery services and ready-to-eat meals for a share of the consumer’s stomach.”



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