In late July I participated in Japan’s premier meals tech convention, SKS Japan. I used to be honored to be a gap speaker, framing our collective challenges and alternatives in meals techniques and suggesting that Japan affords worthwhile classes about “blue” (aquatic) meals. And I used to be fascinated to study a meals business that celebrates centuries-old tradition whereas driving cutting-edge R&D and manufacturing.


Alongside changemakers throughout the globe, Japanese companies, innovators, and traders are additionally embracing the thrilling potentialities that meals tech affords—not just for attention-grabbing and scrumptious new merchandise, but additionally for higher diet and lowered environmental influence. Listed here are a couple of of my takeaways from the convention.

Meals tech traits

What struck me most about Japan’s meals tech dialog was the way it echoes innovation in different elements of the world. As elsewhere, various proteins had been a significant matter—each the societal and environmental crucial to supply extra plentiful, lower-impact proteins, and the industrial traits of great investor {dollars} and rising shopper curiosity within the sector. Cultivated meat, specifically, continues to draw a lot consideration, particularly given the U.S. authorities’s current approval of cultivated meat for shoppers (second solely to Singapore). New plant-based merchandise are additionally thriving inside Japan and throughout Asia, equivalent to pea-based ramen noodles, although a chunk of plant-based “tuna” sashimi—too chewy and salty for my style—jogged my memory of the restrictions of imitation. And fermented merchandise, one in every of Japan’s superpowers, have super potentialities for scale-up and replication in different markets.


One other development in focus was customized diet. I spent a mesmerizing couple of minutes watching a 3D printer craft a multicolored, layered gummy tailor-made to a selected dietary profile. Japan hosts main researchers on the intestine microbiome and product designed to fulfill particular person dietary wants. Listening to their shows, I’m more and more satisfied that we’re experiencing a revolution in organic perception on diet. Although I’m cautious of the hype, unstudied results, and entry inequities of bioengineered meals, I’m compelled by science-based perception that may assist us deal with collective diet safety.

Meals custom and values

Not all meals innovation is high-tech. I’ve a smooth spot in my coronary heart for previous concepts, rediscovered. Tendencies buzzing in some elements of the world are previous information in Japan. Upcycling? Japan has made vinegar as a byproduct of sake for generations. Decreasing meals loss and waste? A number of producers combine all parts of uncooked components into their items … together with, one panelist described, “feathers and bones.” (This American didn’t inquire the place to search out their snacks.) And plant-based protein? I’ve one phrase: tofu.

Past the convention, I felt a collective emphasis in Japan on avoiding meals waste (together with by means of small parts), on freshness (the ever-present 7-Elevens have bizarrely good sushi) and on meals security. And though there are some enjoyable gimmicks—equivalent to when my breakfast “server” turned out to be a cat-faced robotic gliding throughout the diner—there’s reverence for the skillful human contact within the craft and repair of meals.

Entrepreneurship and ecosystem-building in Japan’s meals tech sector

One attention-grabbing distinction between Japan and different meals tech hotspots is the ecosystem for entrepreneurship. Skilled professionals and new entrepreneurs described elements that appear to constrain Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship, equivalent to Japan’s values round humility and excellence; its aversion to “failure”; and its comparatively conventional, hierarchical company constructions. One panelist referenced the nation’s low standing within the World Entrepreneurship Monitor.

The convention skillfully addressed this dialog with one on ecosystem-building, drawing insights from the E.U., the MENA area, Singapore, and the U.S. As one panelist rightly famous, ecosystems don’t simply occur; they should be skillfully designed and supported. Many people on the convention—and SKS Japan itself—are constructing a vibrant meals tech ecosystem in Japan. In fact, there are lots of worthy avenues to innovation except for the bravado-laden American model. My want is that Japan can borrow choose insights from different areas, crowding in considerate capital and companions to nourish native entrepreneurship whereas retaining native values and the very best of Japan’s scrumptious meals tradition.

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