This one is a press release - but a very interesting one. I’ve merely edited here and there for style, but it takes a poignant look at Japan and the lack of inroads within Japan for the baby formula market segment. I have provided my usual lengthy discourse at the end of the press release, explaining why making such inroads may be nigh impossible for brand owners.
Even though Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has released guidelines for manufacturing, labeling and storage of liquid infant formula, setting the stage for its production in Japan, it is likely to be several years before the first liquid formula appears on the commercial market, says leading data and analytics company GlobalData.
While liquid infant formulae are widely used in many markets due to convenience, there are no takers for the products in Japan primarily due to lack of safety regulations and rise in the proportion of mothers exclusively breastfeeding from 41.4 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in 2015, according to GlobalData.
However, in the wake of the 2011 tsunami, a number of liquid milks were shipped, for example, from the U.S. and Finland, and these proved popular with many mothers.
This led to renewed calls for liquid milks to be allowed on the Japanese market.
The Japanese market has tended to split baby milk into two main types:
1) infant formula for babies from birth until nine months, and;
2) follow-on milks from nine months, although the last three years or so have begun to see a shift in age specifications.
Despite rising rates of breastfeeding, per capita consumption of infant formula by babies aged 0-12 months has increased in the past few years, boosted by growing demand from tourists from elsewhere in the region, and stands at 9.8 kilograms.
GlobalData research director of baby food Valerie Lincoln-Stubbs says, “Overall, the market is difficult and competitive for manufacturers, and all of them are keen to find ways to increase their sales in a market with ever fewer consumers.”
Some companies are even selling baby milk to the elderly in their quest to increase sales.
In 2017, in response to older customers adding infant formula to their diet, Japanese food manufacturer and brand owner Morinaga launched infant formula-based Lifestyle milk for women in their 50s to 70s. Bean Stalk Snow followed in September 2017 with a similar product aimed at the adult palate.
While liquid formulae could present an opportunity for increasing the number of usage occasions, manufacturers need to be aware of the crowded state of urban Japan, which means that kitchens are small and storage space is at a premium.
There is also an environmental argument against liquid formula with its high volume meaning the carbon footprint to transport it is much higher than for powdered milk.
Lincoln-Stubbs concludes: “Liquid formulae tend to command a higher price, and while Japanese consumers are generally affluent, there are concerns that these products will be unaffordable for the less wealthy. When they do hit the shelves, it is likely that demand will be limited, with small individual serving packs expected to be the most popular format due to their on-the-go appeal, their relatively affordability and easy storage.”
Some 4,000 of the world’s largest companies, including over 70 percent of FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 and 60 percent of Fortune 100 companies, use GlobalData’s unique data, expert analysis and innovative solutions, all in one platform. The company helps clients decode the future to be more successful and innovative across a range of industries, including the healthcare, consumer, retail, financial, technology and professional services sectors. Company information available at www,globaldata.com.
What I find interesting, is the attempt at hitting a different market from what the infant formulae was originally intended.
I assume the recipe is different for the older women.
In North America, products such as Boost are all the rage—I’ve bought a few of the six packs recently—but are not marketed solely to women. They are marketed as a meal supplement featuring—according to its brand owner—Nestlé—to provide "the complete nutrition you need to help you stay strong".
The drinks contain 10 grams of protein, 26 vitamins and minerals, and come in four flavors (that I know of). There are, along with the standard original formula, others with added calories, a diabetic version, and even a high protein version.
It also tastes pretty darn good.
The scenario proposed by Morniga and Bean Stalk Snow still does not show how they plan on having greater inroads with Japanese mothers, but it does show initiative to try and find an alternative customer source.
There are many reasons why some mothers prefer to stick with breastfeeding their brood, rather than opting for infant formula.
I am unsure about the validity of the various claims, but aside from the natural aspect that is preferred, breastfeeding—even for time periods when many other mothers from other nations might wean their child—is that it is thought that breastfeeding provides more nutrients and helps ensure a stronger immune system for the child.
My son was breastfed longer than what I thought was "normal", but at the same time, the kid never gets sick. Coincidence or proof?
Then again, I don't get sick either. And I wasn't breastfed for anything close to a long time, as way back when, it was incumbent that my mother get back to work as soon as possible. I believe it was three months.
Coincidence or proof?
That's the problem with facts and research. Unless we are talking about a ridiculously high percentile one way or the other, with all social factors being equal, how do you determine if breastfeeding versus infant formula is the way to go?
Even if breastfeeding, such as what the Japanese seem to prefer, is eventually considered to be the best solution, would that still be the case for the mother who doesn't eat well, or drinks, or smokes? Could any of those factors affect the potency of nutrients being passed on to the infant during breast feeding? Does exercise play into it... too much, too little, none at all, or what? Social environments such as stress or living in an area with a higher degree of smog or pollution? Water supply - not all water is created equally, you know.
Again... food... what constitutes "healthy food"? People in countries around the world eat different "healthy" foods - can you ultimately determine that what is best for one person is the best for another?
Plus... in Japan... there is a reluctance to try new things... something that has changed in the past 30 years, but something that still exists as a big green monster for foreign companies looking to bring the next new thing to a country.
That's what GlobalData implies, but doesn't exactly state in its news release.
"(I)t is likely to be several years before the first liquid formula appears on the commercial market," says Global data, even though guidelines are in place.
Despite the convenience factor, Japanese mothers are reluctant to give up their role of nurturer and feeder of their infant.
While other societies are glad to have an infant formula around so that the father or in-laws et al can provide some physical relief to the mother during feeding time, in Japan, the care of the child from birth to whenever, is really a Japanese mother's full-time job.
Part of that ensues from the fact that Japanese women upon graduation will find work, get married and have a child... and while views are beginning to change in the Japanese business world, it is largely assumed that after marriage, a Japanese woman will indeed quickly get pregnant, and will never return to the workforce.
It's not a 100 percent deal—but it is still the norm.
Heck... you can even see, in western society, a reluctance of employers to hire a just-married woman for fear they will lose them soon to pregnancy, and be on the hook for maternity leave... meaning someone new has to be paid, while they still (partially) pay the mother/employee. So why hire them?
I'm not saying such business practices are right are wrong, I'm merely pointing out a scenario that plays out every day.
In Japan, female workers who have a child are extremely unlikely to return to the workforce... so what are they doing?
They are looking after their child (children). As such, if that is their new "employment", they would want and need to feel completely useful. Health conscious reasoning aside, the necessity to do their mothering job takes precedent.
Again, not every Japanese woman does the elongated time of breast feeding, as some do see the benefits of utilizing an infant formula... but despite the Japanese government providing the means for manufacturers to enter this relatively new Japanese market, discovering ways to change a Japanese mindset that doesn't necessarily want to be changed is going to be the key.