There's a great big world of food out there, but who can travel to every show? Earlier this month Foodex was held in Tokyo, Japan, and just-food.com was lucky enough to have roving correspondent Bruce Hoggard on the ground. He filed this report, describing the most innovative new products that caught his eye.

This year's Foodex Japan theme, "From the World to Japan, From Japan to the World" marked the 29th anniversary of Asia's number one food and beverage exhibition and the world's third-largest food and beverage show. The overall product theme and focus was on, "domestically produced, safe, natural and naturally occurring" foods, all key buzzwords relevant to the health-conscious Japanese and global populations.

Hosted in the eight display halls of the Makuhari Messe, the floor space was divided into two main sections. The larger of the two areas, the International Exhibition Zone offered an unequalled opportunity for visitors to gather information on the global food industry and the latest trends, and see leading edge products. This year there were 1,719 international exhibitors from 74 countries, an impressive increase from the 1,551 exhibitors in 2003.

The predominant representation was from Europe and the Americas. However, the show received significant increases in participation from Korea, China, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and India. This continued growth reflects international companies' growing awareness of and interest in the Japanese food market.

Meanwhile, halls six through eight hosted the Japanese Exhibition Zone, a unique gathering of Japanese foods. The products ranged from traditional regional specialties to the newest Japanese food and beverage products. The 746 Japanese companies exhibiting at the show provided a good geographic representation of the country and a wonderful sampling of foods.

National Pavilions losing ground

A notable and growing trend is the increasing number of foreign companies moving from booths in national pavilions, located in the International Zone, to independent booths within the Japanese Zone. This strategy places the companies squarely in front of the Japanese consumer, as the Japanese Zone always seems busier than the International Zone. Given the positive response from several of the people at this year's show, this trend is expected to gain favour with even more international companies.

In addition to the booths, Foodex Japan offered visitors and exhibitors a series of special events and seminars, providing displays and a wealth of information, experience and knowledge. There were two new special events at this year's show.

Opportunity to learn

The first, Souzai-Nakashoku Hiroba, consisted of presentations, seminars and exhibits to illustrate the current and exciting trend in the souzai and nakashoku market segments. Souzai is the broad concept referring to ready-made dishes, similar to western delicatessen food. Souzai is usually bought in small portions, creating the staple for Japanese meals that typically consist of an assortment of side dishes. Nakashoku is a new Japanese concept encompassing the entire range of meals "cooked elsewhere but eaten at home". Examples of Nakashoku include take-out restaurant meals, souzai and bento, which are prepared lunch-box meals.

Hints in Developing Successful Premium Products was the second new event and covered the area of Specialty Food. Although numerous other countries have 'specialty foods' this niche market has yet to become a defined market segment in Japan. Therefore, Foodex Japan decided to take a bold and innovative step by defining this market niche in Japan and projecting its future development. The area associated with the Specialty Foods also included the 20 winners of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) Annual Product Awards. The NASFT, based in New York, USA, founded the International Fancy Food Shows in the US and holds the NASFT Annual Product Awards competition each summer to honour truly outstanding specialty foods, known as the Best of the Best.

As in the past years the show had several focus areas, called Plazas, where similar products were grouped together to create "mini-shows" and an industry concentration.

Deli expansion in Japan

The new Focus Display at this year's show was the Foodex Plaza -Foodex Deli. This area reflected the significant growth of the souzai segment in the domestic market and acted as a centre for business discussions and the latest deli-related information releases. The delicatessen market is expanding at a rapid rate in Japan, a result of the demographic and cultural changes. These changes have people turning to food products offering convenience, variety and quality.

The other three Plazas were the Foodex Organic & Natural Plaza, featuring food certified under the revised JAS law, organically certified products from around the world, and products cultivated or raised with low levels of or no agricultural chemicals; the Foodex Tea & Coffee Plaza encompassing a comprehensive selection, from green tea, blend tea and coffee beans to related products such as sweeteners, confectionery and utensils; and the Foodex Health Plaza promoting foodstuffs for specific health use and/or nutrient function, supplements, nutritionally fortified health-oriented products and natural foods.

The Health Plaza seemed to be the more popular of the four locations. This may be in part due to the combination of an aging population, increasing health awareness, disease prevention conscious lifestyle changes and rising medical costs. These are all major and current issues in Japan.

As with all food shows of this size there are many great booths and wonderful foods to sample. Following are several of the more notable booths. The company's products either represent several of the growing food trends within Japan and Asia or represent the growing influence of Asian foods and tastes within Europe and North America.

Steirerkraft Naturprodukte

This Austrian company, founded in 1997, is involved with a healthy, organic product that is centuries old. The pumpkin, discovered by the Incas, offers a variety of delicious food alternatives to other snack foods and cooking oils.

Steirerkraft produces Styrian pumpkin seed-oil, Styrian pumpkin seeds and numerous other delicious pumpkin products. One of these products is the pumpkin energy bar called Bisss. This pumpkin snack is an energy bar and can be eaten during sporting events, while on the go or to hold a person over between meals. If you enjoy and like the taste of pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup, then this energy bar, full of energy and vitamins, may be the alternative snack you have been looking for.

The company's pumpkin seeds, unlike its sunflower seed competition, are grown without a shell. The seeds are especially crunchy, tasty and for the health conscious and/or older consumer, easily digestible and rich in vitamin E.

Ding The Recipe

The initial reason I was attracted to this booth was the company's rather peculiar name, a novelty all by itself. This New Zealand, now Australian, company was established in 1997 as a manufacturer of condiments and multi-purpose paste used as dips and marinades; for stir-fries and BBQ; or toppings for noodles and rice; or as soup-base. The products are healthy and are cholesterol free, making them appealing for various diet and health plans.

The other important factor working in this company's favour was its impressive selection of sauces. With 20 various flavours, there is a choice for almost any palate. However, the Chilli Jam, which can be used as a substitute for tomato sauce, should not to be mistaken for the Chilli Paste, which is very hot. Several other flavour options included: Moroccan Marinade, a tantalising 'North African' spice blend of fresh coriander, preserved lemons and saffron; Rogan Josh, is a traditional Kashmiri style spice paste made from a blend of selected spices and can be used as a classic curry with lamb; and the last flavour, Butter Chicken.

Bali Kitchen

As its company name indicates, Bali Kitchen is an Indonesian company offering a complete range of famous Indonesian delicacies based on old, authentic recipes. The tropical archipelago, also known as the Spice Islands, has an abundance of spices, fragrant roots and herbs. These inputs, along with the various cultures that have impacted the region, have helped shape the distinct flavours of Indonesian food. These foods, and the ingredients to make them, are now making their way to supermarkets throughout Asia, Europe and North America, the new culinary exports from Asia.

Bali Kitchen offers 72 different products, ranging from seasoning and coating mixes to sauces, coconut and 16 variations of noodles. Three of the ten seasonings are White Chicken Curry, Indonesian Chicken Soup and Satay Marinade Sauce. Each of these products are used to bring Indonesian flavour to different dishes, adding the distinct flavour found in Bali and throughout the country, right in your own kitchen.

There are three coating mixes that can be used with all types of meats, whether it is seafood, chicken, beef or your own favourite meat. The mix produces a crispy, tasty batter locking in the juices and keeping the meat tender. Similar to products like "Shake n'Bake" the Bali Kitchen's coatings are simple, easy and there is no need to add other spices or flavours. Of the three coating flavours, the Batter Mix Banana Fritter was the most interesting.

I-Mei Foods

I-Mei Foods is a major Taiwanese company specialising in the manufacture, distribution, export and import of food products. Established 70 years ago, the company has grown from its bakery roots to become one of the biggest food companies in Taiwan. I-Mei's relationship with international fastfood chains in Taiwan means it also supplies food and beverages used by McDonald's, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

For the home, I-Mei has an extensive array of products ranging from ice cream to biscuits, and candies to dumplings and prepared meals.

One of the more popular categories, reflecting the current lifestyle trends, is the prepared meal. As with many of the Asian food names, the strangeness of the name is not reflected in the quality of the taste. Examples of this were evident with many of the companies at the show, and the best from I-Mei included the Drunken Chicken, Pork Stomach Soup, and my favourite, White Fungus Yacon with Red Date Dessert. The company also offers prepared meals of Ginseng Chicken, Stew Vegetable, Stew Pork with Bamboo Shoot and finally Pearl Meat Ball.

Jack Link's

When attending food shows it is very easy constantly to be sampling and snacking, moving from booth to booth in search of that next great taste. The next company specialises in the "snacking" business, offering an assortment of products designed to bridge the gap between meals or while entertaining. Each year Jack Link's, a company located in the US, is at Foodex to promote its beef jerky meat snack brands and other premium products. This year was no different even though the US has had several issues dealing with "mad cow" and "bird flu".

The company offers an impressive assortment of eleven flavours of jerky, three flavours of beefsteak nuggets, and eight flavours of kippered steaks. It has also introduced several new products, adding to current product lines with new flavours and tastes. In meat snacks, it has added Jalapeno Beef Jerky and Kickin Cajun Beef Jerky to its jerky brand. Also, building on the success of its four other Tyson chicken products in the market, Jack Link's introduced a hot n'spicy version of the Tyson Buffalo Chicken Bites.

Jack Link's also offers meat sticks, meat and cheese twin packs, and three types of gourmet sausages and, in a completely different category, three types of pickles.

Over the four days of the show, approximately 106,000 visitors sampled the various foods and enjoyed the show's upbeat atmosphere and tempo. Although not as crowded as the Ginza, there was a "sea-of-people" as people were wall-to-wall and shoulder-to-shoulder from opening to closing. But then good food and a party atmosphere always attract a crowd.

Expert Analysis

The Market for Packaged Food in Japan

This report provides new product developments, distribution trends and demand factors in addition to providing company and brand share data, retail sales statistics and sector performance analysis. 19 categories are analysed

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