Progressive Grocer spoke to Nissin Foods USA CEO Mike Price on the company’s quietly revolutionary products on the occasion of a milestone anniversary.
Progressive Grocer: Nissin’s Top Ramen brand marks its 50th anniversary this year, an occasion that often gives rise to reflection. What has the company learned along the way?
Mike Price:With 50 years of experience in the U.S. ramen industry, Nissin continues to focus on innovation, leading the way with new flavor profiles and products inspired by our consumers. One of our most recent advancements was the introduction of [microwaveable] Top Ramen bowls, making instant ramen more accessible in ready-to-go containers, [with the addition of] hot water.
PG: Describe the company’s origins.
MP: Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant noodles, was the Henry Ford of his time — a true innovator. As a result of the food shortages in Japan post-WWII, Mr. Ando was inspired to create a product that was delicious and affordable, saying, “Peace will come to the world when there is enough food.”
In 1958, Mr. Ando released Chikin Ramen instant noodles in Japan. And on a trip to the U.S. in 1966, Mr. Ando noticed Americans curiously eating forkfuls of noodles out of cups, instead of using bowls and chopsticks. With that simple observation, the idea for Cup Noodles was born. Shortly after that trip in 1970, Nissin officially put down its roots in California at our Gardena plant, creating Top Ramen, the first instant ramen manufactured and sold in the States. Ever since, Nissin Foods has launched a continuous stream of new and innovative products for hungry, noodle-loving Americans.
PG: How did ramen come to be considered an all-American meal or snack, from being an imported curiosity?
MP: When Nissin Foods first introduced instant ramen to Americans, we changed the way people think about affordable meals, offering something quick, tasty and comforting. At first, “ramen” was an unfamiliar term for Americans, and as such, Top Ramen was once named Oodles of Noodles on the East Coast. Now Top Ramen is a household staple, beloved by Americans across the country.
PG: How did you come to Nissin Foods?
MP: I’ve worked in several leadership positions in the consumer packaged goods industry, including Mars. I was really stuck by Nissin’s heritage, and the value they bring consumers each day with affordable, high-quality meals. And I’m really proud to be a part of such a great team.
PG: What has been the impact of the pandemic on your company’s business and bottom-line financials, and why?
MP: Staples continue to fly off the store shelves, with people looking for things they can stock up on, and our products fit this profile well. With that, our sales have increased, and we’ve been growing double digits. Even as the category grows, we’ve been outpacing the market. To help meet this demand, we’ve had teams working overtime, and have ramped up production to ensure we reduce supply disruptions. This experience has made us stronger as a company and forced us to improve processes, which will certainly benefit us in the long term.
PG: How have consumers been making use of instant noodles this year, as opposed to years past?
MP:Top Ramen continues to be a steadfast pantry staple that our fans have loved for generations, and they continue to add their own modern spin, creating delicious meals with what they have in their pantries. In celebration of our 50th anniversary, we asked our fans to show us how they TOP ramen, and they’ve been busy sharing their most imaginative Top Ramen recipes with us, ranging from bacon parmesan ramen to ramen grilled cheese.
PG: What new products, if any, are in the pipeline?
MP: We recently launched Top Ramen’s most convenient and customizable product to date, Top Ramen Bowls, making it even easier to enjoy ramen on the go. Our innovation pipeline is driven by listening to our consumers and is responsible for the expansion of Cup Noodles Stir Fry and our new Hot & Spicy Fire Wok bowls.
PG: What is your strategy moving forward into a post-pandemic future? How do you intend to build on the gains of this year?
MP: We’re proud of the progress we’ve made, and we look forward to the future with optimism. We’re hoping we can continue to keep pace with the demand, and also produce some new innovative offerings that will delight our consumers.