19 July 2019
Nissin Foods, the creator of Cup Noodles, depends on China and Hong Kong for a bulk of its instant noddle sales overseas.  Photo: Bloomberg
Nissin Foods, the creator of Cup Noodles, depends on China and Hong Kong for a bulk of its instant noddle sales overseas. Photo: Bloomberg

How Nissin sparked an instant food culture

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of the world’s first instant noodles by the founder of what has now become one of Japan’s biggest food firms: Nissin Foods.

Operating from a small shack in the backyard of a house in Ikeda in Osaka Prefecture, Momofuku Ando labored through trial and error to invent “chicken ramen” and subsequently Cup Noodles.

The Cup Noodles, which came into being in 1971, led to an explosion in consumption of instant noodles in many parts of the world.

Hong Kong is one of the markets that Nissin conquered quickly, and its instant noodles now find a place in the kitchen shelves of most people.

I, too, am a big fan of the Japanese firm’s products, having fond memories of several satisfying meals during my childhood — occasionally as midnight snack but more often as breakfast. 

But I must reveal that I chose not to buy shares of the instant noodle maker when a unit launched an IPO in Hong Kong in December last year.

I believed I was being a disciplined person, not letting food biases dictate my investment decisions. I was of the view that the new listing wouldn’t do well. 

But I was wrong.

As things turned out, Nissin Foods Co. has performed quite well in the market despite a dismal debut on Dec. 11 when it closed 5 percent below the offer price of HK$3.54.

The stock is currently changing hands at HK$3.72, and we can say that it has performed much better than other locally-listed foreign firms including Italy’s Prada and Russia’s Rusal (which plunged 50 percent last week following US sanctions on some Russian entities and their owners).

Nissin Foods, a spin-off of Tokyo-listed Nissan Foods Group, raised HK$950 million in its IPO, aiming to use the funds for expansion into premium instant noodles market in China.

The shares have gained ground after the firm, which distributes Cup Noodles, Demae Iccho and Doll Dim Sum in Hong Kong and China, revealed that it recorded a 10 percent increase in top line last year.

Let’s bear in mind this fact. Every day, some 290 million people among the seven billion world population are said to have consumed instant noodles in 2016.

Consumption of the noodles reached 97.5 billion meals during that year, according to the World Instant Noodles Association.

China and Hong Kong together make up the No.1 market, with about 38.5 billion packets of instant noodles sold in the country in 2016, after a 2013 peak that saw sale of 46.2 billion packets.

Knowing that Hong Kong is a very important market, Nissan Foods has been operating a workshop at the Hong Kong International Airport, the first such overseas initiative, since December 2016.

It is a popular workshop, judging by the response I witnessed during two sign-ups. The activity is almost identical to the half-an-hour workshop carried out in Japan, as I saw at the Instant Ramen Museum which I recently visited in Osaka Prefecture. 

Nissin Foods make its fans happy during the near-two-hour visit as it tells them all about the history of the instant noodles and how the company lives by the following four mottos:

“Peace will come to the world when there is enough food”;

“Create food to serve society”;

“Eat wisely for beauty and health”; and

“Food-related jobs are sacred profession.”

Now, who can argue with that?

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EJ Insight writer

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