Feeding Guilty Pleasure Around the World – 1
It would be hard to find someone who has never come across pot noodles or instant Ramen. It all started in a shed in Japan, and there are so many brands all around the world now, helping busy, or maybe lazy, people filling up with tasty hot soup noodle.
As is the case with many legendary inventions, such as Hello Kitty, Sony Walkman and many other from Japan in the 70s and the 80s, it is easy to think that this great product is a fruit of corporate development teamwork. But this groundbreaking staple food for modern life was the creation of one person – Mr Momofuku Ando.
Entrepreneur for Brighter Future
Born in 1910 in Osaka, he was always an entrepreneurial merchant, growing up watching his grandparents run their Kimono store. At the age of 22, he started trading knitted fabrics. It was a huge success as it coincided with the change in the choice of clothing among Japanese, from traditional Japanese Kimono type to more westernised shirts, jackets, trousers, and skirts.
However, he did not stop with one success but ventured out to other businesses, such as refining salt, running schools, producing charcoal, housing, and so on. He saw the changes in the society and tried making a business success out of it. He was well placed as the speed of change in the mid 20th century was turbulent, and only those with the courage to run with it came out with the reward.
Under harsh circumstances, his philosophy of finding new businesses was always based on helping people to live a better life, something to brighten up the society. As he walked through cities after the war, he firmly believed that only food could provide the basis for the better society. There is no way people can be happy and enjoy arts and cultural activities unless their stomachs are satisfied.
From Zero to Inventor of Revolutionary Food
It was a long queue at Ramen noodle stand that made him wonder. The love of noodle in Japanese people was so obvious that he couldn’t help asking why wheat products were either bread or biscuits, brought in by the occupying force. Why was there no noodle available?
But he did not venture into the food business immediately. He had no experience in this sector. But in 1957, the trust bank, of which he was one of the directors, filed bankruptcy. He lost everything except his house in Osaka. It was time for the entrepreneur to answer the long-standing question and fill the market gap.
In a shed he built in his backyard, he started experimenting with fresh noodles. His aim was that this noodle had to taste good, have a long shelf life, be easy to prepare, be inexpensive and hygienic. He worked night and day, every day to find the solution to satisfy all these five criteria. And the eureka moment came from another kitchen in the house. It was seeing his wife preparing tempura that gave birth to the oil heat drying method, the basis of instant noodle. He finally succeeded by neatly folding the noodle, putting them in a square metal basket (originally made by him), and dipping it into high temperature cooking oil. All the moisture was instantaneously taken out of the noodle. It kept more than half a year in a cupboard, and it rehydrated to the original form of delicious fresh noodle just by pouring water, waiting for two minutes. The first ever instant noodle was on sale in August 1958.
Riding the Wave of Social Changes
The product price was six times more than conventional dried noodle portion, but the ease of use and its taste attracted so many consumers. It was a huge success. So much so that customers’ trucks formed queues outside their warehouse.
The time was good again for Mr Ando. One year before the debut of instant noodle, the first supermarket in Japan opened its door. The new large quantity distribution system needed exactly the type of product that was easy to store, hygienic, and with a long shelf life. It was the dawn of rapid economic growth, women started to work, and the demand for easy to prepare food was on the rise. Television sets were starting to spread into many households, so he made TV adverts and sponsored programmes.
His products became a recognizable brand, so much so that there were numerous amount of copycat items. He had to move quickly to protect himself by applying for patents. The speed of growth was so fast that he had to react to make sure the standard was kept high by eliminating substandard copy products, and customers were not disappointed by making sure the stores were well stocked.
But Mr Ando did not stop there. He had a bigger idea to spread the noodles to the world – Cup Noodle.
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