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Will Japan Eateries Welcome Vegans in 2020?

Internationally, the Vegan boom will show significant gains in 2020 worldwide, but Japan is still a difficult destination for those seeking plant-based options. International chains in Japan will start to offer meat-alternatives in 2020, so this is an important year for Japanese eateries to join the worldwide trend and cater to visitors and residents looking to change their lifestyle to have less of a carbon impact.

In 2019, people across 178 countries started the year pledging to eat only plant-based foods for a month with Veganurary. This UK based group got over 500,000 people to register to try Veganuary, but believe over ten times the number took part. The organization worked with over 500 retailers to get them to offer special vegan meals in January 2019. Many participants and retailers continued to follow a Vegan diet and offer Vegan goods and services long after January.

Also in 2019, we saw worldwide industry decline in demand for products from the dairy and meat industry. Forbes cites a 31% increase in plant-based meats and a 9% increase in plant-based dairy alternatives while the meat and dairy industry see steep declines in sales.

In August, 2019- the world saw the intentional burning of the Amazon rainforest, the lungs of the earth, at a time when we are more aware than ever of global warming. The Amazon fires were linked to the beef industry. The negative reaction to these fires helped boost the plant-based meat alternative market such as BeyondMeat. In fact, the meat-alternative market is showing amazing potential asfinancial analysts estimate the plant-based meat market to grow at over 25% each year to over $85 Billion by 2030.

In Japan, progress seemed to be slow but steady in terms of shops and eateries carrying plant-based items due to higher demand from international residents and visitors. Japan based companies that add at least 1 main plant-based item to their menu by January 1, 2020 will reap the rewards of being a market leader.

I predict that 2020 will be the year of the Vegan in Japan due to the influence of popular international chains. We will see the biggest effects from changes to the McDonald’s menu. There will also be strong effects from KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos Pizza and even Starbucks bringing plant-based options to their stores worldwide. IKEA and COSTCO wholesale retailers should also be expected to launch their plant-based menus at their Japanese foodcourts.

No announcements are made for Japan yet, but as 2020 is the year of the Olympic games, I think it is highly unlikely these chains will leave Japan-based shops out of the new menu roll-out in 2020 considering the huge demand from international visitors next year.

According to Happy Cow, at the end of 2019 there were 2151 listings across Japan. While only 318 listings are strictly Vegan eateries and 528 are strictly Vegetarian, a whopping 1,591 of eatery listings offer plant-based options alongside standard meat and fish menus. This may show the influential trend of those who describe their diet as Flexitarian.

Flexitarians are consumers trying to decrease consumption of meat, fish, and dairy- choosing plant-based options when available. Unlike vegans and vegetarians, this group chooses to continue to eat a traditional meat-based diet when it is more convenient. Reasons for the trend is attributed to a keen awareness of the environmental impacts of the meat and dairy industry, the health benefits of eating less animal-sourced products as well as ethical animal welfare concerns. The UK’s YouGov goes into this trend in detail.

In Japan, it may be difficult to see growth in plant-based options outside of the capital Tokyo. National chain Coco Ichibanya, however, has been a success story as it has expanded shops offering the plant-based fare. Recently, SoraNews reviewed the new vegan soup recently launched to the CoCo’s product line.

In 2020, I predict that we will see more plant-based options at major food chains as well as convenience stores and supermarkets as well as online retailers.

As Japan often follows business trends in the US, Neilson.com states that in the American market,

Plant-based meat alternatives are not a passing fad, but scale takes time. Only 21.6% of U.S. households are purchasing meat alternatives, but that’s up 1.6% from last year. As social consciousness and activism continues to accelerate, social causes can drive action. According to recent Nielsen data, a whopping 62% of consumers are willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns, and 43% say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein. Interestingly, while not yet commercially viable, 12% of consumers stated they would be willing to eat cell-cultured meat grown in a lab. With new innovations, health and wellness and social considerations, plant-based foods will continue to shine and grow.

Flexitarians are having an influence on Japan as well, creating new demand from new international residents and visitors. But there are still few eateries offering vegan options compared to international trends. The eateries adding vegan options, however, such as Coco Ichibanya Curry House chain will be seeing increased foot traffic in Japan due to their plant-based offerings.

According to LIVEKINDLY, eateries and food manufacturers that do not add plant-based options are missing out on tapping into a 3 Billion US Dollar food industry.

Foodable Labs data shows that restaurants that started offering vegan options saw a 13 percent increase in traffic. This is despite the fact that overall restaurant industry traffic is down. According to the study, which was released in 2018, 51 percent of U.S. restaurants now offer vegan options. And the numbers show that in some cases, these options may be to thank for boosting sales.

I expect that eateries offering plant-based options have seen similar traffic increases in 2019, especially due to the increased international visitors coming for the Rugby World Cup. It is clear that now is a good time for the food industry in Japan to change and not only become more financially successful but also to improve health. In 2019, a Japanese nutritional study was published showing a link between Ramen shops and an increased risk of stroke.

In summary, there is no downside to offering more plant-based goods and services at a business in Japan. Plant-based options help make customers healthier, it is better for the planet and it can help any business turn a tidy profit if done right. If Japanese eateries don’t join the trend in 2020, vegan travelers will have no choices other than international chains which diminish the cultural and traditional relevance of a trip to Japan.

Some great Vegan and Vegetarian English Resources in Japan