April 9/Asia Pacific Food and Drinks Insights -- A number of Japanese food and beverage firms have been forced to prioritize international expansion in 2008 due to the advanced state of maturity of their domestic market. The latest to join its peers on a geographical expansion drive has been soy sauce specialist Kikkoman Corp. The manufacturer unveiled its Global Vision 2020 plan which will see it double its number of overseas plants to 2020, while also doubling its global soy sauce market share to 12%.

Soy sauce sales have long been stagnant in Japan; an aging population has meant declining customer numbers, with younger consumers more frequently opting for non-traditional foodstuffs for which soy sauce is not an appropriate accompaniment. However, as this has occurred in Japan, the opposite trend has been in evidence in the Western world, with young consumers increasingly favoring Asian foodstuffs -- both in restaurants and at home -- for which soy sauce is the perfect accompaniment.

This Western trend has given sizable soy sauce producers such as Kikkoman and Ajinomoto's Amoy Group, those with the scale to pursue international expansion, a much-needed lifeline. More importantly than that, however, this trend does not appear to be a fad. While some regional foodstuffs have enjoyed explosive, but potentially short-term popularity in the West, the way sushi currently is for example, the suitably of pan-Asian food for consumption at home has given it phenomenal durability. This, coupled with consumption in established Asian markets, has led to the creation of a global soy sauce industry valued at some $10 billion annually.

Kikkoman intends to reduce its Japanese dependence and grow its market share to 12% in the process. The company is targeting 1 billion liters of soy sauce sales by 2020, more than double its current annual output. Just as strong marketing and brand-building will be integral to achieving these aims so will dramatically ramping up production. Kikkoman plans to open six new plants over the next 12 years, most like two each in China and South East Asia and one each in North America and Europe. However, a facility in South America -- a region with its own established food and sauce heritage -- is also under consideration showing just how far Kikkoman believes the audience for soy sauce reaches.

From the April 14, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash