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Japan's No. 2 miso maker to build seasoning factory in Thailand

Growing demand for healthy foods whets appetite for 'shio koji' in Southeast Asia

Hanamaruki has targeted 2020 for the first shipments of liquid 'shio koji' seasoning from its new Thai factory.

TOKYO -- Hanamaruki Foods, Japan's second-largest miso maker, is set to build a factory in Thailand for liquid salted rice malt, a natural seasoning that is finding favor overseas as demand for healthy food grows.

Company President Toshio Hanaoka says he sees opportunity overseas, given that shio koji, as the seasoning is known in Japan, is more popular in Europe than miso -- another Japanese condiment. With year-on-year overseas sales increasing sixfold in 2017, the company hopes the added capacity will boost shio koji exports to other Southeast Asian countries.

Construction of the 16,000-sq.-meter facility, located 90 km north of Bangkok, will start in January 2019 with first shipments scheduled for January 2020. Hanamaruki plans to invest about 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) in the factory, which will produce about 1 million liters of the seasoning per year.

The move comes as the Japanese shio koji market shrinks after peaking about six years ago, according to research company Fuji Keizai. Domestic sales fell to 2.65 billion yen in 2017, from 2.9 billion yen in 2014, when comparable data became available.

Hanamaruki launched its shio koji business in 2012, selling both granular and liquid versions of the seasoning. Sales plateaued after a promising kickoff, but are starting to pick up again, jumping 40% in 2017.

Shio koji is used mainly to tenderize meat and fish while enhancing flavor. The liquid version is easier to use as a marinade than the solid variety and prevents ingredients from sticking to pans. The seasoning is particularly popular at European restaurants as it contains no artificial ingredients.

Hanamaruki expects its global shio koji business to reach 1 billion yen in fiscal 2018, even with production confined to two factories in Japan. Currently, consumers account for 60% of sales with professional users making up the remainder. The company hopes to increase the professional usage ratio in the future.

The company exports 10% of its liquid shio koji, and aims to increase overseas sales of both versions of the seasoning to 500 million yen and domestic sales to 1.5 billion yen by fiscal 2022.

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