Last week I was in Tokyo for Smart Kitchen Summit Japan. It was the second edition of our Japanese event, and while it’s only been twelve short months since that first gathering, the amount of progress I witnessed in the Japan food tech scene over the course of the two days in Tokyo was amazing.

Here are some of the trends, products and innovators that stood out to me last week:

In Japan, Much of the Innovation Comes From Big Companies

For those familiar with Japan, you’ll know it’s not surprising that much of the innovation comes from within established companies. These “intreprenuers” often work in R&D or as part of new business units specifically to innovate new product concepts.

One of these innovation units is Panasonic’s GameChanger Catapult. We’ve written about Catapult as they’ve been showing off innovative product concepts like a food softener for the elderly or home fermentation system.  As it turns out, the innovation unit from Panasonic is still working on those ideas as well as a few new ones.

One of Catapult’s product concepts is Tottemeal, which first showed up at SXSW in Austin in March 2017 as a product concept called Bento@YourOffice. It was comprised of an IoT-powered smart fridge and app system, which is similar in concept to Byte Fridge in that both offer fresh food for sale. Since SXSW last year the company has approached partners and refined the concept to work with any fridge.  The company is now testing out the service in Panasonic’s event/innovation hub, Kura-Think, in Tokyo.

Another large company that’s been busy working on future-forward food tech concepts since last year’s SKS Japan is CookPad. The digital cooking site, which boasts 100 million users worldwide, introduced a smart kitchen platform a couple months ago called OiCy that connects their recipes with appliances to create a guided cooking platform. At SKS Japan, the company outlined the future vision for OiCy in the form of a six-level roadmap for the smart kitchen platform. They also announced an updated partner list which includes hardware manufacturers such as Sharp and Hitachi.

Japan’s Startup Ecosystem Is Gaining Momentum

While much of Japan’s innovation comes from within large organizations, there are also signs of a rapidly maturing food tech startup ecosystem.  Part of the growth is being driven by Japan’s bigger companies like Kirin (who launched their own accelerator). However, there were also a number of young and innovative entrepreneurs that spoke at SKS Japan such as Integriculture’s Yuki Hanyu and Open Meals’ Ryosuke Sakaki.

We’ve written about both companies before in the Spoon. Chris Albrecht was the first to write about Integriculture’s impending $2.7 million funding round when he covered Shojinmeat, the open source project from Hanyu. As Northeast Asia’s only lab-grown meat startup, CEO Hanyu has big plans to jumpstart alternative meat production in the Asia market, and discussed his plans for doing just that.

Open Meals made a big splash this March at SXSW with their sushi teleportation demo. While true food teleportation may be a ways off, the Open Meals vision of creating a food digitization and printing framework is pretty fascinating. Company CEO Sasaki presented an ambitious 100-year look into the future for the idea around food digitization that spanned from digitized food restaurants in Tokyo in just two years and eventually sees space colonies where we’re sharing food experiences in real time with people on earth.

Dinner time in space

Japan’s Smart Kitchen Community Embraces Ideas From US & Europe

The Japan smart kitchen/food tech community is also really interested in innovation happening from the West. One of the speakers at SKS Japan this year was Jon Jenkins, the head of product for the guided cooking group within Meyer, Hestan Cue. Jenkins, who goes by JJ, gave a talk about the role of technology and software in the kitchen and later gave a hands-on demo of the product to a capacity crowd:

It wasn’t just cooking demos. A highly engaged audience packed the room to hear conversations with innovators from the US and Europe such as Jason Cohen of Analytical Flavor Systems talk about the impact on AI on food personalization and flavor. They also heard from Suvie’s Robin Liss as she discuss her company’s four-chamber cooking robot and how today’s appliance companies need to start innovating around food services. The Future Food Institute’s Sara Roversi talked about taking her food innovation platform, which she started in Europe, across the globe. They also listened to Amar Krishna of Chefling and Kevin Yu of SideChef discuss the differences between the smart kitchen platform market in the US with CookPad’s Tad Yoshioka.

Collaboration, Innovation & Community

The biggest takeaway for me from this year’s SKS Japan was there a growing sense of collaboration, innovation, and community in Japan’s food tech market.  Part of it was the hard work of our partners for SKS Japan, SigmaXYZ, who have done a great job over the past year fostering the SKS community. But, just as with the US and Europe, it’s clear now that the Japanese market was ready for an event to catalyze innovation and to bring it together, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that event is SKS.

I’m excited to see how our event in Japan has just done that and has become the go-to food tech event in the Japan market and for much of Asia and I can’t wait to go back next year. I hope I’ll see you there.

If you’re interested in being a part of our global community, don’t miss SKS in Seattle in less than two months!  Robin Liss, Jon Jenkins, Jason Cohen and many more will be there, so you will not want to miss out. You can check it out here and don’t forget to use discount code SPOON for 25% off tickets!

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