Jose Palomino

Innovator Profiles: Momofuku Ando

October 11, 2016

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Instant noodles are a staple in the diet of every college student and starving artist in the world. Everyone has heard of famous brands like Nissin Cup of Noodles, Maruchan, and Nissin Chikin Ramen. Most people have had the pleasure of eating this cheap meal at some point.

The global demand for instant noodles is projected to reach 145.8 billion packs a year by 2020. Yes. One hundred forty five billion packs a year. According to foodmag.com, this cheap and convenient noodle product is “the only instant food of its kind to transcend regional differences in food tastes, flavors and preferences, to become a vital, must-have part of the daily diet of the global population.”

Global production of instant noodles took off in the 1980s, but the product was invented in 1958 by Taiwanese-born Momofuku Ando.

Demand

Ando immigrated as an adult from Taiwan to a post-war Japan, which was suffering from food shortages. Success was not readily available to him – he first suffered a series of professional failures. He even spent 2 years in jail for tax evasion before eventually settling into an unremarkable salt-producing business. This being the precursor to Nissin Chikin.

The food shortage plaguing their country led the Japanese Ministry of Health to encourage citizens to eat bread made from American wheat flour. But, the suggestion met resistance.

One cold night, Ando encountered a long line of people waiting to buy fresh-cooked ramen from a black market stall. This, on top of the Japanese people’s reticence towards American bread, led Ando to ask why cheap nutrition could not be supplied through noodles.

Simplicity

The root of Ando’s idea was simple — the Japanese people were familiar with noodles. The Ministry of Health was pushing bread instead of noodles because they believed noodle companies were too small. They were not equipped to supply for the country’s demand.

Ando set out to solve this problem by creating a cheaper and more efficient way to produce noodles in large quantities. He spent ten years developing the instant noodles that are so familiar to us today, marketing his first package of precooked instant noodles in 1958. Originally, instant noodles were considered a luxury product. However, Ando’s innovative flash frying method allowed for mass production by his company.

Ando’s invention was a simple solution to a perceived market problem. The post-war food shortage inspired him to create a product to fill the gap in cheap food options. Often, there is a very easy solution that just hasn’t been thought of yet.

If you can find a simple solution to an unmet need in your market, you may end up with a product or offering that delivers significant value to customers. To put it another way, meeting an unmet need can lead to creating something greatly valued by customers. Simplicity is appealing — efficiency is appealing. Customers respond to better ways of approaching problems.

Success

Ando’s product appealed to the Japanese people — noodles were a familiar staple of their diet. As time progressed, “the founder of Nissin and the inventor of instant noodles, Mr. Ando Momofuku, guided by purely social principles publicly made available the proprietary technology and recipe of his revolutionary product.” Once Ando shared his methodology with the world in 1981, cup noodles quickly became available in nearly every country.

Interesting TV ad for Nissin, circa 2013

There are a few simple reasons why instant noodles appeal to so many diverse consumers and markets: their “low cost, quality nutrition, wide variety of taste and flavor profiles, and minimal cooking time.”

Identify an area of demand within your industry, and propose a solution to it — maybe even the first solution that comes to mind. Cheap and easy solutions tend to be the favorites of consumers, but if you can fill a gap in what’s currently offered in your area, chances are there will always be a market for your product or offering.

Bottom line:


 
Simple solutions to problems can often be the most popular. Often, cheap and easy ways to solve issues are the most valuable to customers. Innovation does not always mean deep, complicated thinking — sometimes the first idea that comes to mind is the best.

  • What is a problem or gap that currently exists in your market?
  • Do you ever dismiss ideas as too simple, or too easy?
  • What’s your opinion on instant noodles? Do they deserve their worldwide fame?

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