Feeding Guilty Pleasure Around the World – 2
After the success of Chicken Ramen in Japan, Ando was convinced that it would be a success elsewhere. In 1966, he visited the United States and Europe for research. It was an eye-opener for him, and it led to the creation of one of the biggest brand in the world, Cup Noodle.
Adjusting to the Local Eating Habit
During this visit, Ando met buyers for local supermarkets. They were all very keen to try the noodle. But without chopsticks or bowls, they broke the dry Chicken Ramen to pieces, put them in a paper cup, pour the hot water, and ate it with a fork. And yes, they held the cup in one hand.
In an age when there was no satellite TV, Internet, nor smartphones, the only way to conduct market research was to go and see the reality. Imagination and hard-work themselves could not come up with the next generation of world food.
The recipe was complete. There was no need to change the noodle itself. But it was inevitable that the product would need to be packaged and presented in different format. The consumers in the new markets would eat his noodle in a cup with a fork.
Next Generation Noodle Container
The work to find the ideal material and shape for the container started immediately. The shape stayed cup-like as he had his moment of inspiration. It just needed to be a little bigger. The choice of material was a more difficult and important decision. The cup had to be light, heatproof, safe, strong, and economical. The material that met all the criteria was polystyrene, which was a very rare material in Japan at that time.
There was nobody who could make the container for the new product. So, back to basics, Ando decided to do it himself. He purchased the technology from the USA and started manufacturing the perfect noodle container. It was another trial and error: new products only work when everything comes together with perseverance. It was September 1971, and a new world food named Cup Noodle arrived on the market.
Breaking the Taboo on Japanese Streets
As at the launch of Chicken Ramen, Cup Noodle launch was met with criticism. The cost, of course, was a small problem, as Chicken Ramen was selling at 25 yen, but Cup Noodle at 100 yen. It was an expensive snack.
It was also seen as contrary to manners to eat standing up on the street. (Although, in 17th Century Edo period, Soba noodle was a typical street food, and people ate standing at stalls, bowl in left hand, chopsticks in the right.) Traditionally minded distributors would not stock the product in their shops, but Ando did not need anyone else to achieve his goal. He invented Cup Noodle vending machines that dispense the noodles and hot water. 20,000 vending machines were installed in one year, including on Japan’s prime shopping street of Ginza. At this moment, the taboo changed to a fashion. It was a paradigm shift, and Cup Noodle started to fly.
In 1973, the USA version, Cup O’Noodle, was launched. It gradually spread to the world, but every time it was introduced to a new market, the products were adjusted to the local customs and taste. Knowing the market and being flexible, while retaining originality, was the key to success. It is loved so much that there are many collaborations in a variety of media. TV advertisements were always the centre of the marketing, and many famous names – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Freddie Mercury, and Master Yoda, for example – appeared on them. The latest collaboration is Final Fantasy XV. It was and still is unstoppable.
Keeping Pioneer Spirit
Success was sealed when Cup O’Noodle was nominated as the official soup for the 1980’s Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The TV advertisement showed people of all ages and backgrounds happily slurping the noodle soup in the snowy mountain. The world became connected by a simple snack: Cup Noodle became a world food.
Ando kept going until his death at in 2016. One of his last inventions was space noodle. It was loaded onto Space Shuttle Discovery in 2005, ensuring that soup and noodle stay in the cup even in zero gravity. There was no limit to his ambition.
His strong philosophy lives on in the company. The newest invention is Otohiko, a noise cancelling fork. It may not become a world standard, but it still tries to address and bridge cultural differences. The idea comes from the spirit of breaking barriers and focusing on positives to challenge the status-quo, using all the technologies available. It is a huge challenge to maintain Ando’s spirit, but the company certainly is in the business to keep it alive.
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