For the last four decades, Agro Nippo has been Brazil’s leading purveyor of East Asian food products. However, as the tide of Asian immigrants to Brazil has slowed, the company has sought new directions, and products, guaranteed to appeal to all Brazilians. In an interview with President Hideyo Uchinaka, Michael Sommers discovers how the company is banking on an innovative mixture of soy milk and fruit juice to consolidate its market share and its future.
A massive melting pot of immigrants, São Paulo is renowned for being home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. The megalopolis is rife with Japanese supermarkets, food stores and restaurants and it was in order to supply them with traditional quality goods that Agro Nippo was established in 1971.
“My father was always very concerned with healthy food,” recalls Hideyo Uchinaka, son of Agro Nippo’s founder and current president of the medium-sized family business that is the market leader in the East Asian food segment. “He never wanted to create something that wasn’t good. When he started out in the ‘70s, macrobiotic food was very much in vogue. And we said to ourselves, this fad won’t last because most of this food just doesn’t taste good. Japanese food is also healthy, but it tastes good. That our products possess both characteristics is essential to our business.”
EXTENDED LIFE SPAN
“When it comes to quality and taste, we have an advantage based on 30 years of accumulated know-how and experience. Soy milk always has that soy taste, but Mupy doesn’t have that soy taste. Moreover, our fruit flavors are more distilled and pure. Consumers recognize the difference. This is why, despite our small size, we have been able to survive,” says Uchinaka.
He might add “thrive” as well. Throughout its history, Agro Nippo – whose headquarters are located on a 20,000-squarefoot area on the outskirts of São Paulo – has enjoyed steady and constant growth, anchored by bean sprouts and tofu, which together account for between 70 and 80 percent of its business. Until recently, soy fruit juice drinks have only comprised between 3 and 5 percent of its sales. However, yet another pioneering invention promises to make a substantial difference. After years of research, two years ago Agro Nippo succeeded in developing a new technology that enabled it to create the first “long-life” soy milk on the market, a breakthrough that is already opening new doors and creating new possibilities.
Nippo Agro is also banking on conquering the beverage market by introducing new, tropical fruit flavors to its Mupy line as well as creating a line of natural juices.