Nissin Cup Noodles – long a leading brand in the instant Ramen niche – has launched its first Breakfast Ramen flavour. Some see a breakfast revolution in the making. But I see a serious disconnect with Western taste reality. Should Ramen ever be sweet?
Will Nissin’s latest Cup Noodle flavour fly with you?
Yes. Ahem. Well… I don’t think there’s been a bigger revolution in mainstream snacking and meal replacement dining in the past 100 years than the popularization of Instant Ramen noodles. No other commercial food product truly fulfills the classic advertising promise: “Just add water and stir!”
A little history
Instant Noodle cups have been a common commodity in the Asian community for a very long time. At least since the end of the Second World War. When I was in university, back in the early 1970s, I was introduced to the phenomenon by an Asian residence housemate whose family was a big name in the Asian Food business in the Maritimes. A string of restaurants and their own brand of Asian essentials in the supermarkets.
“Let’s get a snack,” he suggested one Friday night when a bunch of us were sitting around watching the blurry old hand-me-down TV in the third floor lounge. The guys reached for their wallets to see if they had any loose cash. The girls got up and scuttled off to their rooms to dig around in their purses. One man alone stood out from the mob.
Peter Chan didn’t move a milimetre. Just sat cross-legged with his arms crossed, grinning like the Buddah. The rest of us hurried about our business, the guys who had cars trying to figure out whose turn it was to drive. Nobody asked which Fast Food joint we would patronize. There was only one at that time – the one with the golden arches out front.
After a few moments, Pete got up, put his big tea kettle on the stove and pulled a large box from behind the communal ratty old three-seater.
Something totally new
Pete tossed each of us a small cardboard cup, shorter and somewhat wider than a disposable coffee chalice. They were very light, and rattled like maracas. And on the lid, they said ‘Chan’s Instant Noodles’ in the usual stereotyped faux-Asian lettering.
Without a word, Pete circled the room adding water to our cups and distributing plastic spoons. “Give ’em a little stir, guys. Have a sip and tell me what you think.”
None of us us had ever heard of, much less seen, single-serving instant noodles before. Many of us immediately thought of Lipton dry soup mixes, which were just not the same thing. The Ramen came with all the veggies and meat morsels you needed to make a complete ‘meal’. The aroma and flavour were exotic and spicy. There was also a lot of salt, but nobody complained.
The crux of the matter
“Back in the old country everybody has some in the cupboard at all times.” Pete explained. “You have to import them if you want them here in Canada. And we have to sell ’em $1.99 each, retail. Dad says that’s too much. People won’t buy them. But he and and Uncle Ray want to make them here and sell ’em for $0.99. Still make a killing. And he figures we can capture both the Asian trade and the mainstream market real quick. Thing is…” He paused for just a beat. “WiIl they fly with your crowd?”
“You mean – um – non-Asians?” someone said.
Pete went around the room. The consensus was, at just $0.99 per cup, college kids would cram their closets with them. Like they already did with Kraft Mac and Cheese. Working folks would go for them, too. Light, fast and easy to make. Lunch-box ready.
And so, Instant Ramen noodles came to Canada.
Fast forward to today…
Of course, we weren’t the only focus group Pet’s Dad and Uncle Ray consulted. But they got the same answers every time they tried out their Instant Raman on North American audiences.
Now, flavours have multiplied many fold, and both imported and domestic brands crowd the shelves. But that’s apparently not enough for the successors to Pete’s family in their quest to dominate the now-legendary Ramen market.
Lunch and dinner, coffee-break, and after school snacks; screen-front sips; late night grab-and-goes. But up to now, they haven’t been able to crack breakfast market.
So, imagine my surprise…
… When I saw that Cup Noddles is launching Breakfast Ramen. Now, we’re not talking about repurposing existing flavours as breakfast fare. That just doesn’t work. Their first breakfast variety is (drum roll please): Maple Syrup, Pancakes, Sausage and Egg. ‘Artificially Flavoured Ramen Noodles in Sauce’.
The new Ramen is available now at Walmart, for a limited time, at a special price: $1.18 per single serving cup.
I haven’t tasted it. And I’m not likely to. I just can’t imagine what it would taste like. But the sweet breakfast ingredients mentioned on the label just don’t work with salty, starchy noodles for me.
All of which is not to say the millennials and those coming after them won’t go crazy for the product. I mean, after all – look at what my generation did for Kraft Mac and Cheese!
~ Maggie J.