In Japan, the food tech and nutritionally balanced food product industries didn’t exist and consumers weren’t familiar with the concept of the industry. That is until BASE FOOD, a nutritionally balanced food Japan-based startup, successfully created a product that popularized the industries.
BASE FOOD officially launched in April of 2016 in Japan and became Amazon Japan’s top seller of the year in the food category for 2017. Furthermore, cumulative product sales have reached more than 500,000 in Japan, as of May in 2019. Also in May, BASE FOOD announced that it had raised about 400 million yen (about $3.76 million USD) to boost its growth in a global market.
BASE FOOD recently launched its third overall product, Base Noodles, online in the U.S. market. Prior to BASE FOOD’s entry into the U.S. market, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Michael Rosenzweig, the COO of BASE FOOD, at BASE FOOD’s San Francisco HQ about their entry into the U.S. market, localization strategy between Japan and the U.S., and company structure.
Before we go into the interview, here are some more details about BASE FOOD.
What is BASE FOOD?
BASE FOOD’s innovative diet could change the concept of food. It provides a quick, tasty, and convenient solution for your health. Its goal is “to make it easier to eat nutrient-rich foods.” Their mission is to positively impact one’s health and lifespan. In Japan, this is especially important since declining birthrate and an aging population are huge issues.
Make it easier to eat nutrient-rich foods.
Shun Hashimoto, the CEO and founder of BASE FOOD, first started making nutritiously balanced noodles in his apartment in Tokyo. The idea of this business came from his experience of feeling that it’s very difficult to have a nutritionally balanced diet. Mr. Hashimoto said in the interview that, “Noodles can be the easiest food to create and consume with all the nutrition we need.”
His mission is to develop a food staple that is healthy and brings joy. Something that is simple, delicious, and healthy. Take a look at this video of Mr. Hashimoto talking about the product and BASE FOOD’s mission.
Base Noodles will be BASE FOOD’s first product sold in America
Base Noodles is BASE FOOD’s first product available in America. Base Noodles are comprised of whole wheat, rice bran, soy, egg, seaweed, sunflower oil, and 25 different vitamins and minerals. It also contains 29 grams of protein and 35% less carbs than fresh-refrigerated plain pasta.
Base Noodles Nutrients Graph from the official site. (Source)
It can be purchased for $4.99 USD per meal and directly delivered to you for a shipping fee of $7 USD. Base Noodles can improve nutrition intake levels, it can be used to make a variety of foods, and it’s easy to make. Just boil it in water and it’ll be ready in two minutes. You can eat the noodles in different ways with different sauces, proteins, etc. For those of you, like me, who don’t have time to cook or lack a balanced diet, this could be an innovative and convenient solution.
Now, here are the insights we gathered from our interview with Michael Rosenzweig.
Why BASE FOOD chose the West Coast as the first market to target in the U.S.
It’s not very common for startups in Japan to pursue the global market. However, Mr. Hashimoto had a strong desire to make BASE FOOD a global company from the beginning. When it was ready to expand into a new market, BASE FOOD chose the U.S. market because of the size of the market and innovation happening in the food industry.
Before considering nationwide market expansion, BASE FOOD wants to focus specifically on the West Coast first. It plans to focus on getting product and performance right before expanding nationwide.
BASE FOOD chose the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of the West Coast as their first locations in the United States, as opposed to the East Coast, because of the proximity to Japan. Aside from location, Michael shared other reasons why the West Coast was chosen.
Michael stated that, “This region [San Francisco] is a hub of innovation.” Consumers here are open to new products and services in many industries, including the food industry. They are interested in plant-based products, meal alternatives, and nutritionally balanced products.
Also, there is an established market for food tech and food alternatives on the West Coast. For example, the co-founders of Soylent, a complete nutrition drinkable meal replacement, met in the San Francisco Bay Area and started inventing the product there; BEYOND MEAT, a plant-based meat substitute, and Trader Joe’s, a grocery store that sells organic food, were founded in the Los Angeles area.
Since the above companies have been successful in acquiring customers, it makes sense for BASE FOOD to start in this area. When talking about expanding into the US market from the West Coast, Michael emphasized that, “People in this area are more receptive to new products, making it easier for us to communicate the value of our noodles.”
Additionally, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the biggest hubs that is full of excellent talent and many prestigious companies and startups that young individuals all over the world aspire to work for to develop their careers.
How BASE FOOD is adjusting to the new market
There is much to consider when entering a new market, such as technology, culture, norms, languages, religions, traditions, etc. All of these factors can make it difficult to acquire new consumers, especially if the nature of the product is uncommon in the market. It is a new experience and there are new competitors; the product along with the marketing and branding strategy will need to be localized for the new market.
We asked Michael to explain how BASE FOOD U.S. will be similar and different from BASE FOOD Japan, how it will take on its new competitors, and what will it do to continue growing in the competitive market.
Product: Keeping the DNA, changing the taste and texture
Fortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) in Japan, which both determine dietary guidelines for their respective countries, have similar standards. Therefore, changing the ingredients of the product was not an issue. Instead, BASE FOOD’s main focus for product localization is on the taste and texture.
Although BASE FOOD has another product called Base Bread in the Japanese market, it chose Base Noodles as its first product in the U.S. market because “Everyone loves noodles.” When Michael said that, we realized that noodles are extremely versatile and that there are many types of noodle dishes in America. In Japan, ramen, udon, and soba noodles are the most common noodle dishes. However, in America, there are many popular noodle dishes from other parts of the world, such as spaghetti, chow mein, pho, hakka, etc.
Base Noodle’s potential market is enormous as consumers buy various types of noodles to make a variety of dishes. BASE FOOD has high expectations in the market because Base Noodles is a nutritionally balanced alternative to other types of noodles.
Different types of noodles. (Source)
BASE FOOD is a direct-to-consumer (D2C) business. One of the benefits of being a D2C company is that it directly receives customer feedback. With insightful feedback, it can improve the quality of its product and customer service more quickly, which allows BASE FOOD to have a closer relationship with their customers.
Company Culture: Multilingual team members with an appreciation for cultural differences
Originally a Japan-based company, BASE FOOD had to consider and reevaluate company culture and human resource practices with a new office in San Francisco. To overcome certain differences between Japan and the United States, BASE FOOD focused on fostering a global team. BASE FOOD’s team is comprised of roughly 50% females and 50% males who are mostly bilingual and have varying amounts of experience working internationally. Considering that Japan is behind in women’s social progression and globalization, this ratio is astounding.
Like Michael, a few have experienced living in both Japan and the U.S. The team members have a strong desire to understand the cultural differences between Japan and the U.S, which is relevant when selling the product in two different markets. Additionally, BASE FOOD employees communicate very closely with one another to deepen their understanding of each other’s skillset and to optimize the team’s abilities. As BASE FOOD continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how its experienced and powerful team will take on the U.S. market.
Competition: Soylent, Huel, or BEYOND MEAT?
BASE FOOD had very few competitors in Japan as it was a trailblazer that developed the market there. However, we thought of a few potential competitors it could face in the U.S. market, such as Soylent, BEYOND MEAT, and Huel, a complete nutrition powder for shakes.
Michael clarified to us that the potential competitors we identified were actually not its competitors from a product standpoint; BEYOND MEAT is made from lab-grown protein and while Soylent and Huel are nutritionally balanced food alternatives, they are drinks.
Some of the attributes that differentiate BASE FOOD from its competitors include the versatility of how its noodles can be prepared, the business moving toward becoming a sustainable brand, and the ingredients used to make Base Noodles. BASE FOOD is the only nutritionally balanced staple food that is made from all-natural ingredients.
As we mentioned before, BASE FOOD not only aims to improve health, but also it strives to become a sustainable leader in the industry. For instance, its warehouse runs on 100% renewable energy.
Growth: Collaborating with the community
In Japan, BASE FOOD has been collaborating with Ramen Nagi, one of the top ramen restaurant chains in the world. As Japan is the mecca for ramen with more than 30,000 ramen restaurants, offering Base Noodles at a top ramen restaurant was a strategic move. It was a great way to show the quality of its product and introduce itself to those who are huge ramen fans and are also concerned about their health.
Similarly, it started collaborating with Ramen Nagi here in the U.S. from the beginning of September prior to its launch in the U.S. Instead of trying to show its quality and introduce itself to health-conscious ramen lovers, the collaboration served as a test in the new market.
To get feedback from food critics in America, BASE FOOD and Ramen Nagi held a private tasting event for media and food industry critics at Ramen Nagi’s Palo Alto location. Customers could try Base Noodles if they were ordered its special, limited-time dish at either Ramen Nagi locations in Palo Alto or Sunnyvale.
This collaboration was an opportunity to get early feedback from customers in the U.S. market. Although they launched in the U.S., testing its product at different restaurants with different customers was important as Michael stated, “We want to illustrate the versatility of our noodles.”
View this post on Instagram
Limited time only, while supplies last! Ramen you love, with wholesomeness you need🍜 Our new Limited King, the BASE Veggie King features @basefood_tokyo‘ BASE Noodles which are rich in many nutrients! Paired with Nagi’s silky vegetable soup, blended with Nagi’s specialty miso, topped with a colorful vegetable terrine and a breathtaking mega nori, this bowl redefines good eating🤩 What are BASE Noodles? BASE Noodles are made with whole wheat, seaweed and flaxseed oil; combining to create an innovative limited-run variation. Get it while it's hot! #limitedking
The BASE King Veggie Bowl was sold at Ramen Nagi in Palo Alto and Santa Clara throughout September 2019. (Source)
Since the collaboration helped BASE FOOD gauge the quality of its noodles to chefs and customers in America, it’s planning to hold more events with other popular restaurants to continue to improve its product.
As a huge fan of BASE FOOD, I am thrilled to see how they will continue to grow and expand in the U.S. market. The day BASE FOOD reshapes our diets is right around the corner.
We thank and appreciate Michael for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about BASE FOOD and its entry into the U.S. market.
Here are a few last words from Michael, “Please try our high quality and nutritionally balanced Base Noodles at Ramen Nagi’s Palo Alto and Santa Clara restaurants or from our website!”
[More About Michael Rosenzweig] Michael was a consultant for 3 years at Ernst & Young in Japan. After moving back to America from Japan, he completed his MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He met BASE FOOD’s US CEO, Atsuya Takahashi, and BASE FOOD’s CTO, Takafumi Shimada, when he attended a conference hosted by TechCrunch in San Francisco.
Are you expanding your business into the Japanese market, but struggling to localize your product or service for the market? We at btrax are localization specialists based in San Francisco and Tokyo and can help you with your UX localization needs along with growth marketing or product validation. Our experienced bilingual team wants to help you succeed in Japan. Contact us today! We look forward to hearing from you!
If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to our newsletter where you can get more insights and news updates on Japan!
※ Check out the Japanese version of this article!
Our new E-Book is here!
We’re thrilled to announce the release of our newest e-book: “What I Wish I Knew Before Entering the Japanese Market.”
Featuring insights from industry professionals who have successfully navigated Japanese markets, this e-book will help you conquer the Japanese business world with confidence.