Meeting a Producer – Hayakawa Shoyu Miso Co., Ltd.: Initiatives of the Young Generation Looking Outside Japan
Jan 25, 2023
FOOD NEWSMeeting a Producer – Hayakawa Shoyu Miso Co., Ltd.: Initiatives of the Young Generation Looking Outside Japan
Kaoru Hayakawa, 33, of Hayakawa Shoyu Miso Co., Ltd., which was founded 138 years ago and has a manufacturing plant in Miyakonojo City, Miyazaki Prefecture. Mr. Hayakawa studied in the United States after graduating from high school, in order to study management and languages as he looked toward the world outside Japan, given recent circumstances in the country, where the population is declining and miso soup is becoming less popular. In the future, he is expected to take over as the seventh representative of this long-established fermented food company. Currently, he serves as Senior Managing Director and promotes the further development of the company by developing various products, engaging in sales activities, and occasionally visiting the plant floor. In this article, we interview Mr. Hayakawa about the present and future as he continues to take on new challenges every day with the aim of expanding his company’s sales channels to the world, while also preserving the history and tradition of Japanese food culture.
As the name suggests, our company mainly manufactures and sells fermented foods such as soy sauce and miso. The company was founded in 1885 and has a long history. In recent years, the age group of employees is getting younger, so we are at a major turning point. Experienced employees all reached retirement age at the same time, but they were replaced smoothly because successors had been trained. The average age of employees at the plant is in their 30s, which is very rare in the industry. This may be the reason we are trying new things every day.
As part of this effort, we have obtained the international hygiene certification FSSC22000, which is a superior version of HACCP. The overseas organic certification Ecocert covers not only the Japanese Organic JAS certification standards, but also the Bio certification standards in Europe and the USA organic certification standards in U.S.
What efforts are being made in Japan?
In Japan, we pride ourselves on being a company that has always preserved the local flavor of Miyazaki and Kagoshima for many years. We are trying to keep the flavor as it is instead of changing it forcibly. I can say that we have been focusing on local areas rather than expanding our sales channels across Japan, including Kanto and Kansai.
The younger generation, including me, is not cooking miso soup as much as the older generation. We are also simply facing the issue of declining population in Japan. Therefore, we are sending various messages through media and SNS in order to encourage people to use miso and soy sauce more frequently without difficulty.
I heard that your company is also making efforts to convey the great features of miso overseas
I talk to local people when I go abroad, and they look at me strangely when I say the word “miso”. However, if I say the word “miso soup,” many people understand. Unlike Japanese people, non-Japanese people often drink miso soup without Japanese soup stock, Dashi. Dashi is a part of Japanese culture, and you may not be able to easily recognize subtle differences in Dashi such as katsuobushi (dried bonito), iriko (dried sardines) and shiitake mushrooms. However, non-Japanese people simply enjoy “miso soup” even if Dashi is not used.
Similarly, in Japan, some people know a lot about miso and others don’t. When I explain about miso to non-Japanese people, I tell them that there are various kinds of miso such as rice miso, barley miso, bean miso and mixed miso. I see them fascinated by my explanation, which makes me happy. This motivates me to continue sending out messages in the future.
What products are sold overseas?
Mainly in Europe, we propose and sell products that are different from those sold locally. They are organic miso and newly developed powdered miso. In particular, powdered miso is very popular overseas than in Japan, and we aim to further expand our sales channels.
Many powdered miso products that are made by the conventional manufacturing process are inferior in flavor and aroma or supplemented with additives. However, the powdered miso our company produces is made using only barley, soybeans and salt. The miso contains live yeast in it, so we can promote it as a healthy product. As some local people say that it has a cheesy flavor, we thought that we could promote it as a similar product with the same fermentation smell. When it comes to cheese dishes, people in Europe have more free ideas than people in Japan on how to use it in their cooking.
What made you develop powdered miso in the first place?
It was triggered by my experience of the Great East Japan Earthquake. As a miso manufacturer, I take pride in the fact that miso is an emergency food from ancient Japan. Despite that, at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I learned that miso was rarely used and used only for soup kitchens. It was not used in times of emergency because of the trouble of cooking, the problem of not quite knowing how miso can be used with versatility for recipes other than miso soup, and the problem of its weight. I realized that miso has significant disadvantages and is not optimized for modern local markets.
The keyword “spice” emerged while I was thinking about how to address the problem. When it comes to spices, they can be transported to various places at room temperature and are highly versatile since they are powder. They can reduce narrow and stereotype ideas about miso itself. So, I believed that, by making miso into powdered spice and offering it as a flavorful seasoning, it would penetrate the world market, which was why I started trying to develop the product.
What is the lineup of powdered miso?
Currently, there are two types of bases for powdered miso: regular additive-free miso and organic miso with a long maturing period. In the future, we plan to offer powdered miso that has a mix of yuzu and sesame seeds. As for spices, we are developing a variety of products, including a Japanese spice made by adding yuzu and shredded pickled plum to powdered miso, a Western-style spice made by adding herbs and garlic, and a spice made with inspiration from India, the home of spices, by using curry as a secret ingredient.
The theme of this new business is to encourage people to use miso with more free ideas. When I introduce miso to non-Japanese people, they come up with a variety of free ideas, such as using it for cooking pasta, and sprinkling it on salad or toast. It is very fun to talk about such things when I go overseas.
I heard that your company was highly evaluated overseas.
In October 2022, there was an event in England to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne. The event was organized by a club of Rolls-Royce and Bentley enthusiasts, and our company was selected as an official partner in recognition of our efforts. At the event, we had an opportunity to introduce our company’s products, which were also featured in a commemorative art book. We were very delighted that, within its context, miso was recognized as one of the best food beverages in the world.
In 2022, we participated in an exhibition in France called SIAL Paris, and in 2023, we plan to participate in an exhibition in Spain. We hope to spread the culture of miso and soy sauce by introducing powdered miso especially to Europe and also to the United States and various other areas.
Lastly, please tell us your future vision.
Considering that our company is introducing our products abroad and in Japan based on Japanese food culture and traditions, I feel the responsibility to make sure not to produce bad products. Personally, I would like to talk about our company proudly while keeping the pride of our craftsmen first. Also, I would be very happy if I could convey the passion of the craftsmen through our products.
My personal feeling is that miso culture is similar to wine, and like terroir in France, there are differences in taste depending on the region. I think the taste of miso is related to craftsmen, tradition and regional characteristics. Currently, our company is the only company introducing products abroad, so there are no products for comparison. My vision for the future is to create packaged brand products made by cool old craftsmen across Japan and introduce them abroad as part of my activities to promote Japanese food culture.