Sanuki Udon Sets Sights on U.S., Hoping to Also Draw Visitors to Kagawa

The Yomiuri Shimbun
These two types of frozen Sanuki udon products will be sold in the United States this year on a trial basis.

TAKAMATSU — A little corner of Shikoku once known as Sanuki Province is hoping its top food item creates a boom around the world and draws visitors as well.

The Kagawa prefectural government plans to market frozen Sanuki udon products in the United States from this spring. After a trial sale of these items, the plan is to distribute them to supermarkets across the United States in 2025.

That year, the Osaka-Kansai Expo will be held, and the prefecture now aims to promote its local udon overseas in tandem. It will also be 55 years since the 1970 Osaka Expo, where sushi chain Kyotaru is believed to have offered udon from Kagawa Prefecture. The udon won rave reviews domestically and later became available nationwide.

As Kagawa is not far from the 2025 expo site, the prefecture also hopes that foreign visitors to the world exposition might travel to the home of Sanuki udon.

The Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Ministry approved the prefecture’s application for subsidies to promote food exports, making this overseas expansion of Sanuki udon possible. This is the first time that udon has been given subsidies through this program.

The products to be sold were selected from two noodle manufacturers in the prefecture that have already acquired food export licenses for the United States: a cup-packaged instant udon product made by Atton in Takamatsu and an instant packaged product called Sanuki Craft Udon by Usuya in Shodoshima. Both products separate the frozen dashi, noodles and a topping such as mixed vegetable tempura.

“The food service industry was forced into a difficult situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Atton President Todoroki Kambara. “We want to boost demand in the post-pandemic world by having udon hit the global stage.”

The cup udon can be eaten by heating it in a microwave, while the packaged udon is ready to consume after heating the contents in a saucepan.

To sell Sanuki udon in the United States, some ingenuity was used for the dashi soup stock. U.S. consumers reportedly don’t favor the aromas of the dashi made from dried baby sardines usual to Sanuki udon in Japan. Thus, soy sauce and mirin flavors have been augmented to lessen the fishy smell.

As frozen foods and other ready-to-eat products are popular in the United States, these Sanuki udon products hope to be readily accepted as well.

For sales promotion in the United States, the prefecture is commissioning Wismettac Foods, Inc., a Tokyo-based trading company.

“Udon is similar to spaghetti as well as highly familiar to Westerners,” said an official of Wismettac Foods. “The taste has been changed from that of udon in Japan, and the word ‘udon’ has a nice ring to it that is easy to remember.”

According to the Japan External Trade Organization, the number of Japanese restaurants in the United States serving udon has increased in recent years, raising udon’s profile. In the United States, udon is considered a food item consumed at restaurants and other eateries, as the process of making dashi and other steps is time-consuming.

The average U.S. person spent $7,795 on food in 2020, of which dining out accounted for 31% while eating at home made up 63%. The data suggests the potential for upbeat frozen udon sales.

“Sanuki udon’s texture can’t be experienced in any other food product,” a JETRO official said. “As these products also can be eaten simply by being heated in a microwave, we can expect some demand.”

The plan is to begin trial sales of these Sanuki udon products this year at supermarkets and in restaurants frequented by Japanese residents in the United States in cities such as Los Angeles and New York. After that, Kagawa Prefecture will aim to expand sales across the United States in 2025 following negotiations with supermarkets there.

“We want to create an udon boom in the United States and then around the world,” an official of the prefectural government said.