MATSUMOTO, Japan -- As Japanese food wins more fans in the U.S., a wasabi producer based at the foot of the Japan Alps is working to bring the condiment to even more consumers and in different forms.
In addition to its use in sushi, wasabi has become a popular ingredient in salad dressing and sauces. Marui, headquartered in Azumino, Japan, is expanding production in the U.S. to keep up with growing demand, and hopes to boost sales in South America and Europe as well.
Marui founded a joint venture in Los Angeles in 2000 with a local takeout sushi chain. The unit produces and distributes powdered wasabi, dressing and sauces, and also imports a wasabi relish often served with meat from its Japanese parent.
But the plant is reaching its capacity limit, and the venture will move to another facility with about 50% more floor space near Los Angeles sometime after summer. The move, which will cost about 200 million yen ($1.83 million), is expected to more than double capacity.
The U.S. market for wasabi has been growing by about 5% a year, thanks to a seemingly insatiable U.S. appetite for sushi and sashimi. "American consumers also tend to use more wasabi in one sitting than Japanese consumers," Marui President and CEO Akira Iguchi said. The South American market is said to be growing at a double-digit clip as well.
Marui was an early entrant into the U.S. market. Its American unit has enjoyed a more than 20% jump in revenue in the past five years, though it has not published exact figures.
The new facility will allow the company to expand its offerings of wasabi-flavored products like dressing and sauce. "I want to work with distributors to cultivate new markets like South America, Europe and elsewhere," Iguchi said.
Azumino, the Nagano Prefecture city, is known as one of Japan's best areas for growing wasabi. Marui actively stresses its Azumino roots in the home market, and expects overall sales to edge up for the year ending March 31 to just under 2.6 billion yen.
The company is also hoping to expand its footprint in Asia. It began contract manufacturing wasabi products in Vietnam in 2018.