Robots support popularity of sushi


Sushi ranked top in the list of favorite Japanese foods released in 2007 by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute. Sushi is now a global word indicating it is also quite popular outside Japan. What supports its bursting popularity is the sushi robot. Suzumo Machinery Co., a relatively small firm with 316 employees headquartered in Tokyo’s Nerima, boasts an overwhelming 60% of the Japanese sushi robot market.

The company, originally a confectionery equipment manufacturer, started developing sushi robots only in recent years by capitalizing on its state-of-the-art rice cooking technology. Its project was prompted by Japan’s “rice glut” created by the government’s controversial policy of reducing the rice acreage in the 1970s. Kisaku Suzuki, the founder of the company, thought that a better use of rice might be possible to turn sushi, which had been eaten only on special occasions, into a casual daily food.

After repeating improvements on ways to make small shari (vinegared rice) balls and put neta (fish and shellfish toppings) on them, the company began marketing in 1981 its “Shari Ben Robo” and a few other robot models that can figure out the accurate amount of rice. Ikuya Oneda, who succeeded Suzuki as president in 2004, hit on an idea of marketing those products in the rest of the world. In the meantime, sushi kept on establishing its image overseas as a typical Japanese food. In fact, about 60% of Japanese restaurants in New York have sushi on their menu, according to data made available in 2006 by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Oneda’s strategy was just in line with the trend of the times.

Oneda was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying in 2013 that his company planned to treble its annual exports of sushi robots to 3,000 units by taking advantage of the ongoing boom of Japanese food abroad. One of his firm’s sushi robots is compatible with seven languages of English, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Furthermore, in response to foreign consumers who dislike nori (dried laver), the company has developed a robot to make California Rolls, which are either crab-flavored kamaboko (fish sausage), avocado, mayonnaise, white sesame etc. rolled with laver or laver put inside.

That way, Suzumo has played a significant role in boosting the popularity of sushi with its new idea of robotics. It has quickly detected the trend of the times and made constant efforts to deliver products fit for the times to the consumers. One may expect the company will make another leap forward in the future.

(Written by: Meiku Takeda)







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