Oatmeal fills new niche as healthier rice stand-in

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Uncooked oatmeal

Oatmeal products that can be enjoyed as a substitute for rice have been gaining popularity, especially due to attention on social media.

Rich in dietary fiber and minerals, oatmeal is a processed form of oats. With food manufacturers having released this year a wide variety of oatmeal-based products, such as oat risotto and oat sweets, the market size doubled in the January-September period alone compared to the whole previous year.

Nutritious food

In early October, an eye-catching flyer was displayed at Summit supermarket’s Higashi-Nakano store in Nakano Ward, Tokyo. The flyer said: “Did you know that trendy oatmeal has become more delicious?”

The supermarket increased the number of oatmeal products it handles from two to five in a full revamp of the store’s lineup in October. Taro Okubo, assistant manager of the store, said, “Since sales are growing, we made it easier for customers to find the products.”

Oatmeal is often eaten with milk for breakfast in the United States and other countries.

According to Nippon Food Manufacturer in Sapporo, which has been selling oatmeal in Japan since 1929, oatmeal contains about 20 times as much dietary fiber as white rice, and is rich in vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and iron.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Dishes cooked with oatmeal

The market for oatmeal in the nine months from January to September this year was worth about ¥3.7 billion, or double the figure for the entire 12 months of last year, which was about ¥1.8 billion, market research firm Intage Inc. said.

The causes are believed to be a rise in the number of people eating at home as they refrained from going out amid the pandemic, and also an increase in health consciousness. The market size is still small compared to that of rice or bread, but oatmeal is said to be especially popular among women in their 30s and over.

Another trigger for the boom was the spread through social media of a cooking method in which oatmeal is microwaved with water so that it has a texture similar to that of rice. The boom was further buoyed by oatmeal’s low caloric count per serving, about half that of white rice.

Business opportunities

A number of food manufacturers have been introducing oatmeal products this year. Keen to capitalize on the boom, they have developed the new offerings quickly. They also have diversified their product lines to include instant risotto and low-calorie cookies, among other oat products.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kellogg (Japan) G.K., known for its corn flakes, began developing oatmeal products around last summer, launching one called Kellogg Oatmeal in April this year. The development period was about half the usual time. A Kellogg spokesperson said the company wanted to release the product as soon as possible because the market was rapidly expanding.

With the popular way to enjoy oatmeal like rice in mind, Kellogg Oatmeal was made to become more fragrant when warmed. Its sales through July were almost four times the target.

Frugra granola, from Calbee, Inc., is a product that already contains oats, along with dried fruits and other ingredients. But now Calbee is developing a new product with a higher percentage of oats.

Consumers are likely to enjoy even more choices as the cornucopia of oatmeal products continues to grow more bountiful.