Time-Pressed Japanese Drop Traditional Breakfasts for Granola

Rising percentage of working women may be triggering shift from rice to western breakfast cereals
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Pictured here is freeze dried granola with blueberries at the Oregon Freeze Dry Inc. facility in Albany, Oregon, U.S., on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to release business inventories data on April 12.

Leah Nash/Bloomberg

Grilled fish, steamed rice and miso soup are disappearing from Japan’s breakfast tables as more households opt for a less time-consuming way to start the day: granola.

Sales of the oven-baked mix of grains, dried fruit and nuts, until recently a rarity on Japanese supermarket shelves, soared to almost 47,500 tons last year, from less than 7,000 tons in 2010, according to the Japan Snack Cereal Foods Association. Rice consumption has been falling for decades.

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That’s helped operating profits at Japan’s largest granola manufacturer, Calbee Inc, almost triple to more than 28 billion yen ($259 million) in the year to March , compared with 9.5 billion yen in financial year 2009. Calbee is planning to increase its sales of granola 2.3-fold to 50 billion yen by about 2019. 

The tendency to opt for cereal comes as more Japanese women enter the workforce, leaving them less time to prepare elaborate meals in the morning. Japan’s consumption of rice has halved in the past 50 years as bread and pasta also take growing shares of the market. Sales of other types of breakfast cereal, such as cornflakes and brown rice flakes, have changed little in recent years.

Time-pressed working women and health-conscious elderly consumers are leading the change, according to Masaya Kawase of Calbee’s public relations department.

"There are social factors behind this," Kawase said. "Japan has a lot more households where both partners work. We think the need to save time is the biggest factor." Health considerations are also playing a part, he added.

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