History

1940s-'50s

With Japan’s resources exhausted by World War II, food shortages were a serious problem during the immediate postwar era. There was no food to distribute in urban areas, so people turned to the black market to obtain food. In the 1950s, general consumption began to increase, and Western food started to have a growing impact on eating habits.

1942

Teikoku Marine Products Control Company

The Japanese government consolidated fishery companies to form the Teikoku Marine Products Control Company (currently Nichirei), in order to manage the country’s wartime marine resources.

Today, Nichirei’s original name—the Teikoku Marine Products Control Company—smacks of bureaucracy, but the name was appropriate in wartime Japan. Although during the war extreme food shortages had not yet rendered the populace unable to continue its support of the war effort due to hunger, securing food was a serious problem for the general population. Thus the government decided it would manage the nation’s food supply by consolidating fisheries companies into a single enterprise.
This, the Teikoku Marine Products Control Company, lasted just three years, ceasing operation in the wake of Japan’s defeat.

1943

Launch fisheries company management; ice-making, cold storage, and freezing businesses; and a marine products enterprise

1945

New start: Nippon Reizo

Although Teikoku Marine Products Control Company sustained major damage during the war, it was revived as a private company in order to help address Japan’s widespread postwar food shortages.

Factories and food processing plants that had escaped war damage were a lifeline for the people, whom they provided with marine products and fresh food.

The nationalized Teikoku Marine Products Control company was needed to continue as a private corporation, to help feed the citizenry, and was renamed Nippon Reizo Inc. The new Company not only survived the postwar turmoil, but successfully rebuilt the former business, although the path was not always smooth.

The individual most instrumental in rebuilding Nippon Reizo was its second president, Kojiro Kimura. Realizing that the Company could not succeed on the strength of its freezing business alone, Kimura pushed the Company toward other promising enterprises, including fishing, food processing, canning, and frozen foods. He sought to create a multifaceted, general foods business founded on “cooling power.” In the immediate postwar era, Nippon Reizo found itself pursuing a bold idea, and the road to the general foods company envisioned by Kimura led, in time, to major success. The Company grew and was, eventually, to hold the top market share in Japan for both the frozen foods and refrigeration-related businesses.

Rising consumption boosts business

As the nation’s war wounds healed and consumption increased, demand for fish and meat grew. Nippon Reizo recognized the business opportunity, and steadily expanded its meat and poultry, as well as its processed foods businesses. This it did as it boosted its frozen food, cold storage, and marine products businesses.

1946

Fruit juice ice candy Reika

Today frozen foods are Nichirei’s core business, but getting to this point was a difficult journey.
Nichirei’s frozen foods business began soon after the war with Reika, a fruit juice ice candy sold throughout Japan, but mainly at railway stations.

However, the full-scale launch of the frozen foods business came five years later, with trial production of such frozen fruits as strawberries and mandarin oranges. Many Japanese have fond memories of frozen mandarin oranges served as a dessert with their school lunch. The frozen strawberries are less well remembered today, but Nichirei’s intention at the time was to introduce everyone to the delicious taste of frozen strawberries as well as oranges.

The Company searched for a product in which we could use frozen strawberries to popularize them. Then came an opportunity to set up a stand at a school bazaar in Tokyo. We decided to sell juice made from frozen fruits, which proved to be hugely popular. Believing we had a winning product, we began selling it as Nichirei Frozen Fruit Juice, along with mandarin orange juice, at department stores. The juice succeeded far beyond our expectations, and we began opening shops at other department stores.

Our product line evolved from frozen strawberries to fruit juice, and came to be recognized nationwide. Few people know that the roots of Nichirei’s frozen foods are actually in frozen juice.

1952

Launch sale of frozen prepackaged tempura meals

1954

Launch sale of frozen prepackaged chawan-mushi

Nichirei’s business began with the sale of frozen fish and ice production, so the development of prepared frozen foods led to our main focus: frozen prepackaged processed foods, rooted in cooling power. Among the first of these foods was frozen chawan-mushi (savory egg custard), now considered to have spearheaded in the development of frozen processed food.

To make chawan-mushi from scratch requires time and effort, involving the preparation of small amounts of various ingredients. Frozen chawan-mushi is an egg-and-soup stock mixture with precooked ingredients (including chicken, gingko nuts, and mitsuba, or Japanese parsley) packed separately in a small bag. After thawing, it needs to be steamed. The process may seem complicated from a modern perspective, but at the time there were no microwave ovens or similar appliances. Thus, the need only to transfer the ingredients from a bag into a container, and then to steam it, made this a ground-breaking product.

1955

Launch export of marine products by sea

1956

Launch meat and poultry business

1957

At the South Pole

What sort of foods are served at the South Pole, a region of extreme cold where temperatures around the Japanese base fall well below -40ºC?

Japan’s first Antarctic expedition took place more than 50 years ago. The first expedition ship, the Soya, carried two huskies, Taro and Jiro, which served as sled dogs and became legendary for the moving story of their survival in the Antarctic.

The sea journey to Antarctica is long, and requires food that can last a long time. With water in limited supply, meals could not require a lot of preparation. Fresh and easily prepared foods were needed for those who would spend the winter at Showa Station.
Since Antarctica is the world’s coldest natural refrigerator, the obvious choice seemed to be frozen foods in the form of meals that could be stored for long periods, would remain fresh, and were easily prepared.

So it was that the meals that sustained Japan’s Antarctic research expedition comprised frozen foods. Nippon Reizo provided the expedition with around 20 tonnes of frozen food of 69 varieties, including frozen vegetables and steamed egg custard. Frozen vegetables, which retain their nutritional value when frozen, played an important role in maintaining the health of expedition members.
The team that spent the winter at the research station became very familiar with the frozen foods that were their daily meals.

Frozen foods for the home

While initially frozen foods were used mostly for school lunches and other group meals, Nippon Reizo began promoting frozen foods for household use, arranging department store tastings and special events.

Nichirei created many hit frozen food products, and there are numerous interesting stories about the development of frozen foods for household use.

The main problem with creating and popularizing these frozen foods was keeping the products frozen between factory and home. Refrigerated trucks and freezers are essential for transporting frozen foods and to display them in stores, while refrigerators are necessary to store the products at home. The first issue at the time was how to fulfill both of these requirements.

To introduce consumers to unfamiliar frozen foods, Nippon Reizo employees set up sales corners in department stores, held special events, and made other promotional efforts. At stores, we began by designating a frozen foods stocker. We also went around to electrical goods makers to urge the development of home refrigerator-freezers.

Nippon Reizo’s efforts to develop frozen food products ultimately led to the creation of such popular foods as frozen croquettes.

1959

Start long-distance refrigerated trucking

At this time, the bulk of the long-distance transportation of frozen foods was done by rail, in refrigerated freight cars, or by sea, using refrigerator ships.

For shorter distances and delivery times, refrigerated trucks and bags filled with ice or dry ice were used. So it was that, in 1959, Nichirei developed its own refrigerated trucks, making it possible to transport frozen foods from Tokyo to Kyushu.

The first truck, named Hayabusa (falcon), was equipped with a refrigerator and cooling system. This allowed a maximum load of three tonnes to be moved, while maintaining a freezer temperature of between -20°C and -23°C. The words “Frozen Food” on the side of the truck caught people’s eye as it traveled down the road, helping to raise awareness and enhance the image of frozen foods.

1960s-’70s

Japan entered a period of rapid economic growth during this decade. However, although the three essential status symbols of a television, washing machine, and refrigerator became commonplace in the home, Japan’s development was brought to a standstill by the oil crisis of 1973.

The Nichirei brand

From 1959 to 1985, Nippon Reizo used a star as the brand’s symbol for all its products. The cheery, uncluttered image was widely promoted and helped create a brand beloved by consumers.

1960

Establish the Kamagaya Laboratory for research on agricultural and livestock products (set up a rotating poultry house)

1960s Use of refrigerators becomes widespread

By the 1960s, refrigerator-freezers had become common household appliances. This marked the beginning of a broad acceptance of frozen foods for household use.

1964

Contribute to the Tokyo Olympic Games

Provide the Olympic village with large amounts of frozen foods

Excitement spreads nationwide during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The Games were a focus of attention in Japan and around the world. More than just a sports festival, the Olympics highlighted Japan’s postwar reconstruction.

However, the meals that were to be served in the Olympic Village posed a major problem. There were more than 5,000 athletes from 90 countries and with different dietary habits. In host countries, the meals served Olympic athletes are customarily prepared by chefs, so Japan had to provide foods from around the world.

Today, Japan is one of the gourmet capitals of the world, but in the immediate postwar era, Japan’s restaurant industry was still in its infancy. So the champions of Japan’s culinary world who rose to the challenge in 1964 were the chefs of first-class hotels.
The problem, however, was not just one of providing variety. With so many athletes taking part in the Olympics, as well as all the people attending the events, an enormous volume of food was needed. Acquiring so much fresh food all at once, it was realized, would lead to a spike in prices at Tokyo markets. One solution was to use frozen ingredients.

Conventional wisdom at the time held that using frozen ingredients meant less tasty meals but, with the prestige of Japan’s culinary world on the line, no compromises could be made. Thus, chefs researched ways to prepare frozen foods, working diligently around the clock. Food was gradually stockpiled so as not to disrupt the market.

The result of all this effort was that the athletes were able to enjoy a large and diverse variety of meals. Up to that point, frozen foods had been mainly for commercial use. Household-use frozen foods were virtually unknown, but the research on taste and preparation methods by first-rate chefs gave birth to the frozen food industry. It was at this time that what were to become standard frozen food products—such as deep fried shrimp, hamburger steak, and croquettes—were commercialized.

1970

Create Terrace Nichirei cafeteria for the Japan World Exposition (Osaka)

Progress and Harmony for Mankind was the theme of the Japan World Exposition, held in 1970.

Nippon Reizo had a pavilion, where it operated a dining hall and food stands selling meals prepared mainly from frozen foods. The Terrace Nichirei food hall, in particular, was popular with many visitors for offering food that was safe, of consistent quality, and served quickly.

The popular Japanese image until then had been that frozen foods were bland, an impression strongly influenced by the rations of frozen fish that had been distributed during the war. However, this image of frozen foods gradually began to change, as people experienced the exceptional quality and preparation techniques seen at the Osaka World Expo.

Soon, frozen foods came to be widely used in the commercial sector, as family restaurants spread and the restaurant industry developed.

1974

Launch Green Belt brand of frozen family dinners

1980s-'90s

More women began working outside the home, which caused a shift to restaurant and takeout meals. The number of fast food and convenience store chains grew, and became an established part of everyday life. It was at this time that convenient frozen foods started becoming more popular.

Management crisis

Nippon Reizo faced challenges on multiple fronts. These included income stagnation following the oil crises, slowing population growth, a peak in the number of calories Japanese were consuming, and a substantial loss resulting from a miscalculation in the market price for marine products.

Business crisis overcome

Nippon Reizo sought to overcome its multilayered management crisis by conducting an in-house campaign—Tomorrow’s Nippon Reizo—to solicit employees’ opinions on the Company’s future. Then we began formulating a new management plan based on the views received.

As already mentioned, Nippon Reizo’s history was not always smooth sailing. Signs of falling business momentum began to appear in the late 1970s. Growth in the marine products, meat and poultry, and the foods businesses was clearly in decline. This was one of the results of the stagnation of incomes following the oil crises, the slowing population growth, and the peak having been reached in the number of calories Japanese were consuming. The peaking of the calories consumed, which to that point had been increasing steadily, dealt the Company a particularly heavy blow.

Nippon Reizo stood at a major crossroads.

The president at the time, Hideo Asahara, recognized that the Company could not continue without a radical shift in thinking. He was not alone. The Company’s more than 3,000 employees also felt the futility of continuing with business as usual, and were impatient for change as they saw the wasted potential.

Asahara decided to initiate reforms, in order to end the management crisis and despondent mood. Realizing that a top-down vision would be inadequate, he decided to look inward for ideas.

1982

Expand into the field of biotechnology

1985

Change the Company name to Nichirei

The Company made a fresh start, based on the concept of satisfaction of the heart, changed its corporate name to Nichirei, and adopted the stylized capital letter N as its logo.

1988

Create Nichirei Acerola Drink

Nichirei launched its acerola drink in 1987, and the product remains on the market. The drink has its origins in the decision to develop new areas of business, and is one of the results of the Tomorrow’s Nichirei campaign.

One of the problems that Nichirei had at the time was low brand recognition. The majority of its products were main dishes and, since packages were generally opened in kitchens or restaurant prep areas, the brand name didn’t make it to the table.

As Nichirei was considering what sort of products would make the Company better recognized in the home, a large consignment of fruit arrived from business offices in Central and South America.

The prohibition on whaling had made it impossible to obtain whale meat, so Nichirei had asked its offices to send, instead, whatever fruits they could find that were not available in Japan. Many types of produce were sent, with fragrant bouquets and distinctive flavors.

The product development team focused on one fruit in particular that looked a bit like a cherry, and was said to have 30 times the amount of natural vitamin C as a lemon.
It seemed to be some sort of miracle fruit. Called acerola, we immediately began buying it from Central and South America, and sold it in four products—jelly, jam, fruit sauce, and a vinegar drink—on a trial basis at well-known stores in Tokyo that sold fruit.

With the fruit offered as a luxury item to promote health and beauty, the consumer reaction exceeded our expectations. The success of acerola jelly and other products propelled Nichirei into the promising drinks field.

Nichirei Acerola Drink was sold under the Nichirei brand as a fashionable drink to promote women’s beauty and health.

Note: The acerola drinks business was sold to Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd. in 2009. Suntory still uses acerola purchased by Nichirei, and sells the product as Nichirei Acerola Drink.

1988

Launch logistics business in Europe

Nichirei’s foray into the temperature-controlled logistics business overseas began with the setting up of an infrastructure network in Europe. We acquired a Dutch refrigerated storage company, and gradually expanded our network to Germany (1989), Poland (2004), and France (2010).

1993

Launch transfer center full-scaled operations

Frozen foods succeed

By the 1990s, a growing number of people were eating meals at restaurants or as ready-made lunches. Taking advantage of this trend, Nichirei launched a series of hit products.

1994

Launch sale of Shin·Renji-Seikatsu®, one of the first microwaveable frozen foods

Simple cooking of frozen foods in a microwave oven is commonplace today.

Microwavable croquettes are one of the products that resulted from the Tomorrow’s Nichirei campaign. President Kaneda instructed the R&D team to create a new product that other companies couldn’t imitate.

The frozen croquettes sold up to that point had had to be deep fried. As the product launch had been lackluster, and sales were slow, Nichirei began developing a new type of frozen croquette.

We began by identifying the reasons that frozen croquettes weren’t selling. A series of surveys revealed one reason in particular: young mothers with children nearly all felt that freshly fried croquettes tasted best, but deep frying them in oil was too much bother. So we decided to see if we could create a croquette with a fresh-fried taste—but without the need for deep frying.

There was one particularly difficult problem involved in accomplishing this. When previously fried croquettes are reheated in a microwave, the moisture seeps into the bread-crumb coating. This causes the distinctive, light texture of the croquettes to be lost. Although this is common knowledge among people who understand the characteristics of frozen foods, Nichirei never stopped seeking a solution. Using more than 30 microwaves from different manufacturers, we continued to create many sample dishes.

Finally, our efforts led to success. The new product was a major hit, and not just in terms of sales. Up to that point, microwaves had been used mainly to reheat food. But the convenience of being able to use them for simple cooking, at any time, led to an explosive growth in their use throughout Japan.

The development of the New Microwave Lifestyle series of food products was one of the major events that changed the history of frozen foods.

Since 2000

As the trend toward a low birthrate continues, parallel with the inevitable aging of the population, more women have been entering the workforce. As lifestyles began to change, the number of single-person households increased, and the population of seniors grew. At the same time, eating habits diversified in line with the trends. Various incidents involving food increased both consumer interest and awareness of food safety.

2000

Quality assurance

Around 2000, alarms were raised about residual agricultural chemicals in frozen vegetables produced in China. Nichirei had been conducting safety monitoring through local distributors, but decided to revise its approach to include cultivation methods and the management of agricultural chemicals, as well as to put in place a traceability system. The resultant framework allows us to offer products with even greater safety and reliability. Currently, a joint venture company set up in China handles quality inspections, and we do not buy produce from distributors that lack the ability to comply with Nichirei’s standards. Because safety concerns have continued to surface since then, Nichirei has made it a priority measure to strengthen its quality assurance capabilities.

2001

Launch sales of frozen food Honkaku Itame Cha-han® (authentic fried rice) for home use

Since 2000, the main frozen rice product for household use has been Chinese-style fried rice. The techniques involved in making large amounts of good-tasting fried rice presented a high hurdle, but we wanted to do fried rice right. In the late 1990s, the Nichirei Foods’ development team had begun developing a frozen fried rice product that could be considered authentic fried rice.

The team focused on the techniques used by the pros. They studied how professional Chinese chefs were able to make crispy and delicious fried rice, and found that the secret lies in the egg coating.

On the left is a magnified photograph of a rice grain, taken from Nichirei’s Authentic Fried Rice. The yellow layer over the white rice grain is egg. The egg coating prevents the rice grains from sticking together due to the oil penetrating them. By faithfully recreating, on the production line, the procedures used by professional chefs, we sought to create an authentic flavor.

Our authentic fried rice was launched in 2001, after nearly four years of research and development. Of the many rice products made at Nichirei’s Funabashi plant, Authentic fried rice has been a best-selling item since its launch.

2004

Launch temperature-controlled logistics business in China

2005

Shift to a holding company structure

Major social and economic changes made speedy decision-making and adaptation to shifting business environments a necessity. Nichirei shifted to a holding company structure, with the holding company (Nichirei Corporation) setting overall strategy for the corporate Group, and five business companies handling processed foods (Nichirei Foods), logistics (Nichirei Logistics Group), marine products, meat, and poultry (Nichirei Fresh), bioscience (Nichirei Biosciences), and business support (Nichirei Proserve*).

* It merged with Nichirei Corporation in 2013.

2007

Start a directly run poultry farm; start raising Junwakei® chickens

Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate is around 40% on a calorie basis. At first glance, the self-sufficiency rate for chicken seems comparatively high, but the majority of parent birds (breeder hens and cocks) are imported from countries such as the United Kingdom and France.

Since a major outbreak of bird flu or other infection in these countries could lead to a suspension of imports, and have a significant impact on Japan’s poultry production, Nichirei Fresh began raising a new breed of chicken, the Junwakei®, entirely from Japanese stock. These chickens have the benefit of not relying on overseas supply, while also representing Nichirei Fresh’s commitment to quality ingredients and the delicious taste that results from a longer rearing period.

Added to this, the chickens are given feed rice that has been fertilized using poultry manure, and the provenance of the chickens can be traced from the time the Company receives them until the poultry products are shipped out.

Following our corporate DNA that creates savory moments, we overcame the hardships following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, offering customers Junwakei® chickens carefully reared in Hirono Town, in northeastern Iwate Prefecture.

2008

Set up Thai integrated plant to process chicken products

Nichirei Foods established a food production factory (GFPT Nichirei) in Thailand for processed chicken products, in response to growing demand for processed chicken products.
At GFPT Nichirei, we have created an integrated production system that handles chicken processing, from the raw material to the manufactured product.
These items are exported to Japan (Nichirei Foods), sold in Thailand, and exported to Europe. In 2020, we expanded the scale of production with the construction of a second factory.

2011

Build high-performance, large refrigerated warehouses; use a seismic isolation system and other technologies

In 2011, the Nichirei Logistics Group established the Higashi-ogishima Distribution Center in the city of Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. In addition to handling storage, transportation, and delivery, the center supports thawing and repacking operations, so providing a one-stop shop for logistics services.

Further, the Nichirei Logistics Group was the first in its industry to introduce the use of advanced technology, such as that employed in seismic base isolation devices. That shows the Company takes safety measures into consideration.
In 2013, the center was expanded. A second building was constructed that provides some 80,000 tonnes of storage capacity.

2012

Launch Asian food business in North America

In 2012, Nichirei Foods acquired the US-based prepackaged frozen food company, InnovAsian Cuisine. This it did with a view to developing its business in North America, since which time local sales of Asian foods* have grown steadily.
* A category denoting Chinese and other ethnic Asian food.

2013

Launch logistics business in Thailand

The Nichirei Logistics Group established SCG Nichirei Logistics through a joint venture with SCG Logistics Management. In 2021, the business was expanded with the construction of a second building, following the extension of business to include Malaysia in 2018. As a result, the development of the Company’s temperature-controlled logistics business in Southeast Asia was accelerated.

2019

Set up bioscience business base for R&D and production

Nichirei Biosciences established the Global Innovation Center in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, with the aim of strengthening research, development, and production capabilities. In manufacturing products—including diagnostics for cancer and influenza—we support consumer health in the areas of pharmaceuticals.