Canadian plant-based food group Daiya Foods, owned by Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceuticals, has appointed Hajime Fujita as its new CEO.

Fujita will replace Michael Watt, who had been in the role since 2019.

As Watt has already left the company, Fujita starts the role with immediate effect, Daiya confirmed to Just Food.

The group said in a statement: “both the Board of Directors and Michael Watt agree that the time is right to appoint a new CEO.

“Mr. Watt served in the role of CEO for four years, leading the company through the pandemic and overseeing the development of Daiya’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Burnaby, BC.”

Fujita has more than 17 years’ experience in business and financial planning in food and drinks, as well as in the pharmaceutical and electronics industries in the US, Canada, Indonesia, China, and Japan.

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By GlobalData

Most recently, Fujita acted as vice president of business planning at Otsuka Pharmaceuticals.

He has been appointed to manage operations in North America and “the brand’s continued international expansion.”

Daiya’s product line includes a range of plant-based cheese slices, dressings, spreads, and yoghurts, as well as frozen dairy-free meals and desserts.

The group sells into 25,000 retailers in the US and Canada, both in-store and through e-commerce partnerships. It also operates in Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Fujita “was a key player” in the pharma group’s acquisition of Daiya in 2017, the plant-based company said.

He moved to Daiya in 2018, taking on the role of director for financial planning and analysis until 2021.

That same year, he became board member at the dairy-free group and vice president at Otsuka’s American branch.

Commenting on his appointment, Fujita said: “There is enormous potential in the Daiya brand to push the highly competitive plant-based category to new heights, particularly through product innovation and bold marketing.”

While at Daiya, the company said Fujita had “a lead role” in establishing the company’s production site in Burnaby, British Columbia, which is said to be “the largest stand-alone plant-based food facility in North America.”

According to the government of British Columbia’s official website, Daiya’s production and office facility in Burnaby is around 400,000 square feet.

Just Food has asked the group for details on the size of its Burnaby workforce, as well as whether this is its sole manufacturing facility.

Earlier this year, the company announced it would invest “a multi-million-dollar” sum into fermentation technology to add fermented plant-based cheeses to its portfolio. The fermentation site will be installed in the Burnaby facility, the group said.