April 1, 2012

Meet The Manufacturer: Interview with Nissin Foods USA – Makers of Top Ramen, Cup Noodles & More

Welcome to the second installment in the ‘Meet The Manufacturer’ series! This one’s with Nissin, makers of the ever-popular Top Ramen, Cup Noodles and the like. They sent a nice package of different instant varieties to sample – most of them new to me. The following interview is with Senior Marketing Manager, Linda Chung, facilitated by Senior Marketing Coordinator Scott Akazaki.

TRR: Nissin was the first instant noodles I had ever tried in my life – I am thrilled and thoroughly appreciate the chance to do this interview with you – thank you!

To start, can you give a little background on how the company was founded and a little about its history in Japan?

NISSIN: Mr. Ando began the company as part of a humble family operation back in 1948. Faced with sparse food sources after World War II, Mr. Ando realized that a quality, convenient ramen product would help to feed the masses. His goal was to create a satisfying ramen that could be eaten anywhere, anytime. In 1958, Nissin introduced “Chicken Ramen”, the first instant ramen. Ironically, it was considered a luxury item, since Japanese grocery stores sold fresh Japanese noodles (udon) at one-sixth the cost of Mr. Ando’s new food concept.
Still, Mr. Ando was convinced that his revolutionary new method of preparation would sell. The concept seemed simple enough. All users would have to do is simply remove the ramen from its package, place it in a bowl, add boiling water, cover the bowl, and wait three minutes. The conservative Japanese food industry, however, rejected the product as a novelty with no future. They had never been so wrong.
Soon, Chicken Ramen was selling beyond even Mr. Ando’s wildest expectations. Before you could say “instant”, more than ten companies were rushing to put their own versions out on the market. By the end of 1958, grocery shelves were crowded with this new staple for the Japanese kitchen. From this point on, Nissin Foods began introduction of a long list of successful and innovative ramen products.

TRR: For those who might not be familiar with all of them, what lines of instant noodle products to you offer in the United States?

NISSIN: We are constantly pushing the boundaries of instant ramen as it should be with our new products – the latest is Big Cup Noodles (It features shorter, wider noodles in a paper cup). Other products include:

Cup Noodles
Top Ramen
Souper Meal
Chow Mein
Chow Noodles
Bowl Noodles Rich & Savory
Bowl Noodles Hot & Spicy
Ramen Bowl (just launched)
Spoon it (just launched)

TRR: When and why was there a need for Nissin Foods in the United States?

NISSIN: Nissin Foods introduced Top Ramen into the U.S. in 1970. Mr. Ando saw an opportunity to introduce a new type of noodle soup product to the states. As he showed his products to grocery store buyers, he realized that no one in the US had ramen sized bowls. This insight, combined with getting served coffee in a Styrofoam cup on a business trip flight, was the genesis of Cup Noodles.

TRR: I know that the varieties available in Japan and the product line in the United States differ quite a bit. Why is that?

NISSIN: This is based on developing tastes that are suitable for a specific region of the globe. This was especially true in the 1970’s when the concept of instant ramen was foreign, we didn’t want to compound this with Asian flavors.

TRR: How do you determine when it is time to retire a flavor of Top Ramen and how do you go about determining a new one to offer?

NISSIN: This decision is based primarily on what the customer wants. We tend to let them “vote” with their wallets.

TRR: I commonly am asked if I am worried about sodium levels in all the different instant noodles from around the world I review. How would you recommend people balance their enjoyment of instant noodles and keeping them as part of a healthy meal?

NISSIN: You’ve already answered the question. It’s all about balance. Our products are ideal when you are looking for something fast, convenient and portable (and tastes good).

TRR: Often, I hear about people microwaving Cup Noodles. Is this the correct method of their preparation? Is it recommended to do so?

NISSIN: Cup Noodles was designed for optimum eating experience with boiling water.

TRR: When I was very young, my mother introduced me to Nissin Roasted Ramen, which was a close resemblance to Nissin Chikin Ramen, the first product produced in Japan in 1958 by Nissin. After Roasted Ramen was discontinued, I found an Asian grocery in Seattle and found Chikin Ramen – but it’s been decades since I’ve seen Chikin Ramen available anywhere. Any chance you’ll bring Roasted Ramen or something like it back?

NISSIN: That is up to our parent company in Japan. There are some government regulations about importing items that contain a certain amount of meat/chicken. This is especially true after the Mad Cow scare a few years back.

TRR: I recently discovered you new line of Ramen Bowls. With flavors like Kimchi and Hot & Spicy, are these meant to compete with similar Korean products?

NISSIN: We are trying to offer our consumers an authentic Asian experience.

TRR: I’ve noticed many instant noodle manufacturers are located in Southern California. Aside from the fact that it never rains there, why was this the spot you picked for your factory?

NISSIN: I’ll have to get back to you on that one. It may be because of the established Asian population that was here in the 1970’s. This was the natural first consumer base for our products – first/second generation Japanese who missed this type of ramen noodles.

TRR: How many packs and cups of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles are made every year?

NISSIN: 3.9 billion instant ramen products (including Nissin) have been consumed in the US in 2010. See the link below for more information.


TRR: Can you tell my readers about any new and exciting products to look for in the near future?

NISSIN: We are launching new flavors for our Big Cup Noodles line: Roast Chicken and Spicy Chicken.

TRR: Finally, when you enjoy instant noodles, what kind do you like and what do you add (if anything) to them to make them your own?

NISSIN: What’s my favorite Nissin product? It’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child! Chow Mein is my favorite Nissin product. Stir fried noodles without the hassle of cooking or getting takeout. If I am eating instant ramen, it’s primarily due to time constraint so, I enjoy it as-is.

TRR: Again, thank you very much for this opportunity to do this interview! Thank you for making such a great product so many enjoy and have a great day!

Well, there you have it! Thanks again to the folks at Nissin USA for the samples and the interview! This was a lot of fun and I’m sure folks will be interested in seeing the new products I’ll be reviewing in the next week or so!

Products cooked according to package instructions. Product reviews done prior to adding any additional ingredients.

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