On a roll
By swiftly adapting to market trends and focusing on the delivery of high quality, authentic sushi, ichiban UK has maintained its position as the largest sushi producer in the UK
With pre-packed sushi in supermarkets worth over £80 million and increasing numbers of customers choosing sushi as a snack, lunch or on-the-go meal year-on-year, ichiban UK is in an enviable position as the ‘number one’ in sushi production. Making an average of 500,000 packs of sushi every week, ichiban UK combines Japanese rice cooking methods with some of the favourite flavours of the British consumer to deliver high quality, in-demand products to a growing customer base. In fact, in 2016, the company cooked approximately 900 tonnes of rice in total – equalling 180,000 individual pots, and 21 million nigiri blocks were topped by hand.
With quality at the heart of ichiban UK, the company ensures standards are maintained with round-the-clock assessors at the facility and operates in a site that maintains the highest BRC accreditation level at Grade AA. Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week at its factory in the idyllic Suffolk countryside, ichiban UK invested in automation to further ensure compliance with the codes of practice of retailers in November 2016. As a supplier of both own label and branded authentic sushi, the company installed an automated OAL system, which has prevented label and packaging errors and helped the company accurately record line stoppages and identify areas of improvement.
“Since making this investment, we have already experienced a number of key benefits. The OAL system has helped to ensure 100 per cent of packs that leave site are labelled and priced correctly according to each customer’s requirements. This is the ultimate safety net for ichiban UK to guarantee perfect customer service. Another key benefit will be the reduction of paperwork in the system,” explains Andrew Wilkinson, Managing Director at ichiban UK.
In terms of the food itself, ichiban UK has a large, expanding sushi range that can either act as a quick snack or as a substantial lunch. In line with market trends and consumer demand, the company develops new products through a team of experts that understand sushi and the needs of clients. This way of operating ensures customers get beautiful looking, authentic Japanese food that is not only an interesting alternative to the typical lunch time sandwich, but is also healthy.
Since previously being featured in FoodChain in December 2016, ichiban UK has continued to deliver the best possible products to its customers through ongoing improvements and bringing fresh ideas to the market. Known for undertaking extensive market research and working together with suppliers to make the launch of new, relevant and in-demand products possible, the company has focused on the rise in people taking on a vegetarian or vegan diet as well as the demand for healthier, premium food products.
“Throughout 2017 we have experienced a very exciting time for sushi, with a number of successful launches with our key customers and introduced some new varieties of tasty sushi to ensure we keep our customers’ demand levels high. We are of course facing a challenging and evolving market place, but through investment in the right areas of our business, we are well placed to meet these changes head-on,” says Andrew.
He continues: “In terms of big market/consumer trends, we are definitely seeing an increased demand for fresh sushi and one that also brings about a sense of indulgence. We have seen the rise of a number of non-direct competitors, which are certainly raising the profile of sushi and, with it, customer expectations. As a business, we will always try to reflect current trends through our development work, with the inclusion of better vegetarian options certainly capturing our customers’ imaginations, with high praise being expressed through social media.”
The company also launched a gluten free soy sauce in response to the public’s increased awareness of free-from and other healthy foods; this launch was well-received, with options for customers sourcing gluten free lunches significantly improving in the lunch ranges of Tesco and Boots. “The trend for free-from and healthier foods is one that will carry on for a good while to come as people look to tailor their consumption habits to meet with their lifestyle choices,” says Andrew. “Sushi at ichiban UK has definitely led the lunchtime evolution in this area.”
In addition to building better product ranges that customers want to buy, the company has also recently been working with Tesco on the re-launch of its range. Previously a regimented and processed-looking customer offering on the shelf, ichiban UK’s sushi range has been step-changed to showcase a more Japanese style. “We created a more authentic Japanese look by removing the processed style and instead offering our range in a single cavity tray in comparison to the previous chocolate box style. Tesco are also the first retailer to offer a printed base design, which features a black tray with a gold bonsai tree, to enhance our authentic Japanese cues further,” highlights Andrew.
With the benchmark for sushi moving higher due to a number of non-direct competitors and sushi becoming a more mainstream option, the company is focused on staying relevant both today and in the future through product development and quality, as Andrew concludes: “We are always seeking new and innovative platforms to extend sushi to the masses. One area I can tell you that we are working on is an update on our brand ‘Yumie’, so keep an eye out for exciting things in 2018!”