Photo/IllutrationEmergency food stock to be consumed in times of disaster, marketed by Hinomoto Shokusan Co., is allergen-free and halal-compatible. (Kazuyuki Kanai)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Food suppliers in this disaster-prone country are enhancing their emergency food offerings to appeal to a broader customer base in an expanding market.

With a growing demand for essential provisions during such calamities as earthquakes and typhoons, a variety of products have appeared on shelves--and in vending machines--including liquid baby formula and foodstuffs that take into account food allergies and religious precepts.

Major food manufacturers are aggressively marketing liquid baby formula products that stay good for long-term preservation under normal temperatures and do not have to be dissolved in hot water like powdered formula.

Liquid baby formula drew a surge of public attention after such products were sent to Japan from overseas as part of relief goods following a succession of strong earthquakes that struck Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016. In August last year, Japanese authorities lifted a ban on the production and sale of liquid baby formula in this country.

Ezaki Glico Co. subsequently began marketing a liquid formula product in spring this year. The product is selling three times as briskly as initially projected, a Glico official said.

Meiji Co. also began selling its own liquid baby formula this past spring, with the volume of shipments twice as large as initially planned.

The product has been well received for convenience of use outside the home, a Meiji official said.

About 10 local governments, including the city of Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, have decided to store cans of the Meiji product as emergency stock.

In addition, the Michi no Eki Aso roadside rest area in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, began storing packs of Glico's liquid baby formula product as part of a broader, national effort to make use of roadside rest areas as bases for disaster management.

A separate roadside rest area in Hamatonbetsu, Hokkaido, has a vending machine that sells packs of the Glico product. They also serve as emergency stock in times of disaster.

Research firm Fuji Keizai Co. says the market for emergency food stock expanded 20 percent year on year to 15 billion yen ($141 million) in 2012, the year after the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The market further expanded to 18.9 billion yen in 2016, partly owing to replacement demand, as the “best before” dates were expiring for food and other supplies that had been purchased for storage in 2012 or later.

Fuji Keizai has forecast that the market will grow to 19.5 billion yen in 2021 amid moves by local governments and businesses to expand their stock.

BUSINESSES PLAYING ACTIVE PART

In the Kansai region, not only local governments, but also businesses are taking measures to prepare themselves for an expected, large Nankai Trough earthquake beneath waters south of Japan.

Kansai Electric Power Co. increased the amount of its emergency food stock from a day or two’s worth to three days’ worth late in 2017.

KEPCO’s head office in Osaka is purchasing more foodstuffs, such as rice and canned provisions, that would be enough to feed about 3,800 people for three days. The preparations are expected to be completed by the end of fiscal 2019.

“We have several tens of millions of yen set aside annually for emergency food stock,” a KEPCO official said. “A lack of thorough preparedness could affect our post-disaster restoration work.”

With the spread of emergency food stocks, products have appeared on the market that are intended for those who face restrictions in the food they can eat because of allergies or for religious reasons.

“We have set the goal of providing emergency food stock that everyone can consume without anxiety when and where they have evacuated,” said Hiroshige Mino, president of Hinomoto Shokusan Co., a food processing and wholesale company based in Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture.

Hinomoto Shokusan is marketing six types of emergency food stock products, including “steamed glutinous rice” and “meat and potato stew.” Notably, they contain none of what the company calls the “seven major allergens,” such as wheat and eggs.

In addition, a Hinomoto Shokusan plant in Kobe has obtained a halal certificate, which means the plant processes food in line with Islamic precepts. The company is hoping to be a provider of “tasty” emergency food stock, which, being halal-compatible, are prepared without seasonings that contain alcohol, such as "mirin" (sweet sake).

Hinomoto Shokusan possessed know-how in similar manufacturing methods because the company had previous experience in making halal-compatible food products for hotel and in-flight meals.

“We hope to pitch our products aggressively to different customers in the future, including to accommodation facilities and local governments,” Mino said.