Kikkoman takes a collaborative approach to business in Europe
Kikkoman has established itself as a global soy sauce giant, including in Europe, where part of its strategy has been to enter high-profile collaborative projects examining the role of soy sauce in western diets.
In 2007, Kikkoman Europe R&D Laboratory B.V. (KEL) was established in Wageningen – largely to collaborate with Wageningen University & Research and its associated research institutes through the Foodvalley platform.
R&D manager at KEL, Daisuke Kaneko, said proximity to Wageningen University was a clear advantage, and its Foodvalley membership also has connected KEL and Kikkoman groups with important academics at other research institutes across the country, such as Wageningen University, NIZO and TNO.
“Soy sauce is already quite famous in Japan but it’s getting more famous in Europe,” he said. “But many people still don’t know what soy sauce is and how to use soy sauce.”
Since setting up its Dutch office, researchers at Wageningen have worked with KEL on two papers examining how soy sauce could help people reduce their salt intake. Depending on the food product category, they demonstrated that salt could be reduced by 17 to 50% without affecting consumer acceptance. For food manufacturers, soy sauce therefore could prove a useful tool.
“If you use soy sauce instead of salt, you can use less salt with the same satisfaction,” Kaneko explained.
It is an important goal. Although salt is a vital nutrient, most people consume far more than the World Health Organization’s recommended five gram daily maximum to control blood pressure, with average intakes of 10-12 grams across Western Europe. However, convincing consumers and food manufacturers to use soy sauce is challenging, especially in countries without a long history of soy sauce consumption.
More recently, KEL has joined a project called Breaking Habits for the Better together with research teams from Unilever, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, and Noldus Information Technology. They are investigating how food habits are formed and how they can be changed – for example, encouraging consumers to choose reduced salt foods.
Healthier and more sustainable
“The aim of each company is a bit different from each other, but the main aim of this project is how we can shift eating habits to more healthy or sustainable foods,” Kaneko said. “…We are now doing an experiment evaluating the effect of eating context on liking and sensory perception using a well-organised immersive room at Wageningen University. KEL aims to focus on several different aspects of consumer science.”
Being a member of the Foodvalley ecosystem has helped Kikkoman make the connections that have led to its participation in such projects, and Kaneko says the company continues to seek new cooperative research opportunities.
“The benefits of being a member of Foodvalley include events with food researchers, sometimes between institutes and industry, to introduce each other and get acquainted with each other,” Kaneko said. “Also, they know the food industry. If I ask something of a member of Foodvalley, they can suggest someone, or the knowhow of a research institute.”
He added that the papers published in collaboration with Wageningen scientists have been particularly well-recognised by the global food industry, contributing to the company’s standing on the world stage.