When we say ‘ajinomoto’, what comes to mind is a flavour-enhancer that people have mixed opinions about. But as we speak to Atsushi Mishuku, Managing Director of Ajinomoto India, we learn some new facts not just about the product but also about their company. Located on a five-acre facility outside Chenna, Tamil Nadu, Ajinomoto India has been in the market since 2003 with a focus not just on the Tamil Nadu market but also on educating people what this product is all about. Ajinomoto (monosodium glutamate) from this Japanese company is unique because it is based on extensive R and D and more importantly, derived from natural foods like sugarcane and tapioca.
“The Indian market is flooded with ajinomoto products from countries like China which is cheaper but then it is important to understand the difference in how they are made,” stresses Govinda Biswas, manager – marketing, Ajinomoto India. Using a variety of methods like food-related events and cookery videos with celebrity chefs, the company has slowly started to dispel the myths surrounding this product. Mishuku adds, “As you know, MSG is the sodium salt of an amino acid called glutamic acid and it is naturally occurring in foods like tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms. It is a flavour-enhancer which is why when you add tomatoes to rasam, for instance, it is tastier. The ‘umami’ (difficult-to-describe, salty, moreish flavour) taste is very important in Japanese cuisine and we find it in Indian food too.”
The company doesn’t just make MSG but also other seasonings which have taken the Tamil Nadu market by storm. The Hapima crispy fry mixes that they launched has become one of the housewives’ favourites here. These mixes which are available separately for vegetables and chicken elevate the crispiness and crunchiness of these foods. The Hapima range of products also include the fried rice mix and the new flavour they have launched – hot and spicy – has found plenty of takers.
Mishuku explains that their products are unique and they try to open up a new market as a result. Currently, there is no other product in the market like the Hapima crispy fry mixes.
And Biswas is quick to point out that this is not a ‘masala’ mix either. “We have an R and D wing and the products made here cater to the local market. So the hot and spicy fried rice mix is more suited for Indian palate since we enjoy spicier food,” he says.
As of now Ajinomoto India has been slowly and steadily expanding their business over the last decade here. “We see a big potential in India. We are slowly expanding into tier 2 and tier 3 regions. Our business has expanded by gaining more customers for Ajinomoto and we have seen a 200% growth in the seasoning business. Already 70% of people are aware of our crispy fry mixes and 90% are aware of our fried rice mix,” says Biswas.
With people on the move constantly and a need to get a quick cuppa whenever possible, Ajinomoto has launched the Blendy tea and coffee. These are pre-mixed packets of coffee and masala chai to which we need to just add some boiling water. “We are looking at the convenience for people and given that Indians drink a lot of tea and coffee, this product is ideal for them,” says Mishuku.
However, the Japanese company is not just focused on sales and profits but more. Mishuku says, “Our ultimate aim is a social contribution and economic contribution to Indian society through our products. We want to expand sales but we also want to be recognised as an excellent company in India.”