Soybean milk is a very popular beverage in Japan due to the presence of a large lactose intolerant population - with some researchers estimating this to be as high as 90% - as well as the gradual rise in demand for plant-based beverage options.
According to GlobalData, the soy milk and drinks market in Japan was valued at over JPY160bn (US$1.4bn) as of 2020, and domestic soy milk production is well above 400 million litres yearly. Competition is fierce as there are many soy milk manufacturers in the market, and public concerns have been on the rise in recent years regarding exaggerated or fraudulent claims being made on product labels.
In response to this issue, the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) and Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) recently issued stricter labelling rules for soy milks and beverages, covering both liquid and powdered forms of these.
“These new labelling rules will be enforced under the Fair Competition Code to prevent unreasonable marketing to and attraction of consumers [by the product brands], so as to ensure consumers are able to make thoroughly voluntary and rational choices when purchasing soy beverages,” said both agencies via a joint statement.
“In addition, these regulations are expected to ensure fair and equal competition between businesses [based on] the actual characteristics and benefits of the products.”
One major change under the new regulations is the compulsory labelling of all additives in descending order by weight, including those used for fortification - which means that if a product is said to be fortified with, say, Vitamin D but only a minute amount is used, this will appear very far down the list of additives.
Similarly, the list of ingredients will now need to list down the amount of each raw material used by weight, which will highlight whether the product contains high soybeans and/or fruit juice content or conversely high salt or sugar content. This will go down to ingredients such as ‘soybean’, ‘defatted soybean’, soybean oil’, ‘salt’, ‘sugar’, ‘syrup’ and so on.
The place of origin of the raw material with the highest weight will also need to be indicated, and the country of origin of imported products must also be displayed.
“From now on it will also be mandatory to include the amount and calories that the following four components contribute to the product: Protein, Fat, Carbohydrates and Sodium. [Previously] these four were not specified in the rules, but are now compulsory,” said the agencies.
“These regulations will take effect and be enforced immediately in 2022.”
Soy milk concerns
One of the main issues the soy milk industry in Japan faces is with various manufacturers claiming their products to be ‘pure’, ‘raw’ or ‘unprocessed’ despite being reconstituted from powder or having large amounts of sugar added.
“[Manufacturers are reminded that] this sort of misleading labelling is considered improper misrepresentation and is [not] permitted under the regulations,” said the agencies.
“There are also issues surrounding the use of terms claiming the products are of the highest possible grade such as ‘best’, ‘representative’, first’, ‘highest’, ‘super’, ‘best’, ‘only available from our company’ and so on which are not based on objective facts; or the brand causing consumers to misunderstand [the significance] of a particular award or fraudulently claiming to have received said award. All of these are also not permitted by law and violators can be punished accordingly.”