Taking my Miso from Kitchen to Manufacturer

Today, I want to introduce you to Malcolm.

The momentum of our project has accelerated since Malcolm joined our team. A warning to anyone trying to make a food product that doesn’t already exist is that you will need a LOT of technical help. And even if the product you are trying to create already exists, you will still need a decent amount of technical support because the scaling up of the process from the kitchen to be made repeatedly once-a-minute by machines the height of your house, is no a mean feat.

Malcolm is our third musketeer at Miso Tasty, besides Yaser and I. He has been a fantastic business partner and also a godsend. His vast technical experience in the food industry, having spent many a donkey year as the Technical Director of United Biscuits, has meant that he has solved technical issue after technical issue at Miso Tasty. And goodness, has there been a few!

 

I had no idea that creating a food product would be so difficult from a technical point of view. Everyone is so careful about additives and ensuring that the food that we eat is as natural as possible, and yet, we also want it as convenient as possible.

This means that if the product is not fresh, some natural magic has to be done to it to ensure that it can last, is portable and convenient without pumping it with E numbers. This is where Malcolm’s genius comes into play. He has been key in testing and ensuring that my product is safe but natural and he has been instrumental in the negotiations with potential manufacturers.

As soon as the manufacturers start talking techie –  I get completely lost and Malcolm steps in (with a cape on, in my eyes.)

Today we have been in our make-shift lab in Hope Valley. It is a stunning part of the world, where sheeps baaa and you can see the stars clearly at night. Conveniently it is only 20 minutes from my parents so in recent months, it has been a lovely excuse to go and stay with the family and catch up.

Today, we need to make a home-made viscosity metre, as well as double-checking the pH levels and water viscosity of my soups as I have recently developed some new flavours.  We are still editing our product to ensure maximum safety and flavour for our customers (you!) but with still quite a few technical stumbling blocks to overcome, I am getting quite worried about it… We STILL don’t have a co-packer, but the technical homework we are doing here will (hopefully) help us find one.

I really hope we find one sooner rather than later, as we have already been working on this venture for…(can you believe it?) 2 years!  The only comfort that I am getting from this experience is that if it is so hard to make, then I will happily eat my (chef) hat if somebody else is able to replicate what we are trying to do, faster.

Hope Valley, here we are indeed.

Miso – The New Coffee?

Will ‘Miso Breaks’ Become the New Coffee Break?

from The Japan Times

By Yoree Koh

Besides a brownish hue, coffee and miso soup have little in common. But Japan’s largest miso producer hopes its new contraption will persuade some groggy office workers to replace coffee breaks with miso ones.

The new One Shot instant miso soup dispensing machine from Marukome.

Marukome Co. will start selling a new miso soup dispensing machine that makes brewing the Japanese staple even more instant, a simplification that the company hopes will boost consumption. Using a liquid version of the salty fermented soybean paste (the key ingredient in miso), the new ¥3,000 ($38) machine, called the One Shot, strips out hassles like opening and disposing packets. The semi-melted liquid batter, packaged in a pet bottle, also shaves seconds off the time it takes to reconstitute instant powder.

Shogo Koike, spokesman for Marukome, said bringing the miso to the customer and making the cooking process as elementary as possible are key to encourage people to slurp away. While he concedes that coffee and miso soup share few similarities, he thinks people would be tempted to drink more of the broth if it was as easily accessible as coffee. The One Shot is to miso as Nespresso is to coffee.

The One Shot is the latest manifestation of Marukome’s attempts to get consumers to eat more miso. While it remains a signature dish in Japanese cuisine, consumption has slumped drastically since its heyday in the 1970s as the country’s collective diet gradually Westernized. Average annual consumption of miso was about 2,115 grams per person in 2009, almost half compared to the amount consumed in 1970, according to the Japan Federation of Miso Manufacturers Cooperatives. Breakfast menus have changed from the traditional Japanese starter of grilled fish, rice and miso soup to plain toast or cereal.

“Japanese people love miso soup,” said Mr. Koike, but he doesn’t think love is enough to woo people back to the miso-favored Japanese diet of the 1970s. “The likelihood that it (eating habits) won’t change back is all the more reason we (miso producers) need to increase the chance customers will come into contact with miso. The Japanese have a latent need to eat miso soup, but it needs to be there to consume. If it’s in front of them, they will eat it.”

Marukome has in recent years developed a diverse range of miso products, creating miso-flavored bread to powder miso to sprinkle on sandwiches. The most popular product was the liquid miso paste, the key item that made the One Shot possible. When it launched in 2009 the bottles hit a key cooking nerve among home chefs eager to skip the required step to stir and melt the concoction into the pot.

The machine resembles a miniature water cooler. The plastic bottle holding the liquid miso is placed upside down into the device where the tank of water would usually be screwed in. A dollop of liquid miso squirts into the placed bowl after pressing the lever. Add hot water and bon apetit.

The modified convenience coupled with the small size, Marukome hopes to initially push the product towards offices where workers can enjoy the steamy soup as a side to bento lunches. The Nagano-based company will start accepting orders in October. It aims to sell 10,000 units in six months.

Missing: Good Miso Soup

Knowing the competition inside out is important for me to develop a brand and product range that is head and shoulders above the other soups on the market. I tasted all the competition today (18 of them!), but I wont scare you with all the details so here is a selection of 5.

King Soba Miso Soup. 

Nice fresh design, it is a white miso with edamame beans and is also gluten free and organic. It is a dehydrated product as you can see, with tiny chewy spring onion pieces, no sight of edamame. It tasted chickenny (?) and was sweet with a grainy look about it. It was a bit flat in flavour but quite drinkable. I have shown in the picture on the left what dehydrated miso paste looks like. A bit like a cup-a-soup! Probably the best tasting out of the ones that I tried today.

 

Clearspring Hearty Red Miso Soup.

I’ve seen this in all the supermarkets so it must be quite popular. It is dark reddy-brown colour. Again dehydrated, finely chopped spring onions that were chewy. There was also really small pieces of wakame seaweed. Hearty this was not. Probably the least favourite. It tasted bitter so I added some more water to dilute, but it remained bitter-tasting, so I had to throw this one out I am afraid. It tasted like too much salt to consume in one sitting.

 

The Sanchi Miso Soup.

 This was labelled ‘Ready-To-Use Soy-Based Savoury Soup’. Surely they could have come up with something more appealing/catchy/sense-making? Someone get them a copywriter! It does not say what miso they are using (what blend?) which is a real shame since labels like this misinforms the consumer. It suggests that all misos are the same. The inside packet was unbranded and difficult to rip open too. Again the dehydrated bits of ‘vegetables’ were TINY and didnt taste of anything, chewy spring onions again, and the soup I found too salty and a bit flat; there was no depth to it.

 

The Clearspring Miso Organic Paste. 

This was the ONLY ‘paste’ that I saw in the instant soup market… Strangely, it wasn’t a paste, but was the consistency of tomato sauce, while I expected something more like peanut butter, like the real way miso paste is made…I wonder why they watered it down?

Brown and without any bits, it didn’t look appetizing. This worked better as a broth for some noodles rather than as a soup in itself as the flavour was not deep enough, and there were no bits to eat. The box said that there were sea vegetables in, but a prize to anyone who can spot any!  It was like having a sandwhich with no filling = no fun! The packaging was nice though, elegant and slick.

Clearsping Mellow White Miso Soup with Tofu.

A little too sweet! Nice clean packaging and at least they bothered telling me what miso it was.  However, the flavour wasnt quite there.  A good miso soup should be a nice balance of sweet and salty. This was too sweet. The tofu pieces were microscopic.  Lovely internal packaging though and easy to open.

This exercise taught me the following lessons: 

1. The veggies in Miso soup should be chunkier.

The sort of ingredients I would want in my Miso soup are below; chunky fresh spring onions, fresh tofu, hydrated wakame seaweed and chunky pieces of soy-marinaded shitake mushrooms that are full of flavour.  Now I may be being a bit ambitious, for instance those shitake mushrooms there are from my mother who sends them over from Hong Kong and are certainly not cheap, but one must have standards!

2. My soup needs to be balanced. The red miso soups I tried were too heavy and salty, while the yellow/sweet ones were too sweet and lacked depth. I need to look at a combination of them. Below we have from left to right, red miso, dark hatcho miso and sweet shiro white miso.

3. I prefer to use a miso paste rather than dehydrated powder for the miso, even if this means a shorter shelf life or a more expensive product to produce. This is because it creates a nicer consistency, creamier and less grainy than if the stock was dry and granulated. The picture below shows what the misos look like in paste form.

4. Packaging is important. I was more attracted by the ones with nicer packaging. All the packets were the same though –  cardboard boxes, with sachets inside – the only difference was the graphics. I want to do something completely different with my miso. I want my packaging to really catch the eye of the consumer.

5. The design of my miso brand must balance authenticity with accessibility, the designs currently on the market were either too foreign and intimidating, or were too Westernised and simplified what miso is, to the point where its sophisticated complexity and heritage was lost. I want my brand to be the expert in miso, and known for making miso simple for everybody.

Our new packaging prototypes arrive!

Today, Yaser, Malcolm and I travelled to Corby for a meeting with a plastic moulds maker. They are the absolute messiahs of plastic thermoformed packaging. I mean, they really do make everything. Their showroom was just like walking into a supermarket – everything from ketchup bottles, to Branston pickles tubs…any sort of plastic containers you can think of, these guys were the experts.

We sat down for a cup of tea, and went through our requirements. As friends of Malcolm, we could speak safely about our idea. They were enthusiastic about our concept and said that it was certainly something they could help us with. RELIEF.  Within a few weeks they will be able to send us packaging prototypes of what we were describing. HOORAH.

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Blog Entry updated 6 weeks later: Check out our cute prototypes of our miso paste packaging :) SO SO excited! What do you think? These vessels will be the cosy homes for my miso paste. There are some technical hurdles we still need to get over so that you will be able to get the paste out easily, but all in all, I think this is a great step forward for Miso Tasty.