As the Ramen Rater, I had the pleasure to interview the senior marketing manager at Nissin Foods USA, which produces Top Ramen, Cup Noodles, and many other popular instant snacks. Here are some highlights from the interview, but first a little history.
First, Some Top Ramen History
Mr. Momofuku Ando began the company as part of a humble family operation back in 1948. Faced with sparse food sources after World War II, Ando realized that a quality, convenient ramen product would help to feed the masses. His goal was to create a satisfying ramen that could be eaten anywhere, anytime.
In 1958, Nissin introduced "Chicken Ramen," the first instant ramen. Ironically, it was considered a luxury item, since Japanese grocery stores sold fresh Japanese noodles (udon) at one-sixth the cost of Ando's new food concept.
Ando was convinced that his new method of preparation would sell. The concept seemed simple enough. All users would have to do is simply remove the ramen from its package, place it in a bowl, add boiling water, cover the bowl, and wait three minutes. The conservative Japanese food industry, however, rejected the product as a novelty with no future. They had never been so wrong.
Soon, Chicken Ramen was selling beyond even Ando's wildest expectations. Before you could say "instant," more than ten companies were rushing to put their own versions out on the market. By late 1958, grocery shelves were crowded with this new staple for the Japanese kitchen. From this point on, Nissin Foods began introduction of a long list of successful and innovative ramen products.
And now, onto the interview!
When and why was Nissin Foods introduced to the States? Nissin Foods introduced Top Ramen into the U.S. in 1970. Ando saw an opportunity to introduce a new type of noodle soup product to the States. As he showed his products to grocery store buyers, he realized that no one in the US had ramen sized bowls. This insight, combined with getting served coffee in a Styrofoam cup on a business trip flight, was the genesis of Cup Noodles.
The varieties available in Japan and the product line in the U.S. differ quite a bit. Why is that? This is based on developing tastes that are suitable for specific regions. This was especially true in the 1970s when the concept of instant ramen was foreign, we didn't want to compound this with Asian flavors.
How do you determine when Top Ramen flavors are retired? And when to offer new ones? This decision is based primarily on what the customer wants. We tend to let them vote with their wallets.
People ask if I'm worried about sodium levels with all the different instant noodles I eat and review. Any health recommendations? It's all about balance.
Microwaving Cup Noodles—is this the correct method of preparation? I've heard people do it. For optimum eating experience, it should be made with boiling water.
Many instant noodle manufacturers are located in Southern California. Aside from the fact that it never rains there, why? Because of the established Asian population here in the 1970s. This was the natural first consumer base for our products in the States—first and second generation Japanese who missed this type of ramen noodles.
How many packs and cups of Top Ramen and Cup Noodles are made every year? 3.9 billion instant ramen products (including Nissin) have been consumed in the US in 2010.
Finally, your favorite Nissin product? That's like asking someone to pick their favorite child! Chow Mein is my favorite Nissin product. Stir fried noodles without the hassle of cooking or getting takeout. If I am eating instant ramen, it's primarily due to time constraint so, I enjoy it as is.
To see more of this interview and other Nissin reviews, both new products and old favorites, check out The Ramen Rater. And folks, just to clarify: they said the Cup Noodles are best with boiling water! So don't stick them in the microwave! Keep your noodles happy and they will keep you full.
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