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Umami? Isn’t that something to do with MSG?

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I’ve seen a lot of stuff in the past 24 hours about umami, the body’s so-called ‘fifth taste’ after sweet, sour, bitter and sweet. The Japanese word umami translates as deliciousness and supposedly causes the body to find a food, um, delicious. An umami-based product has just been launched that, say its backers, enhances whatever food it is put in.

Now I’m probably in the very small minority of people in the UK who have heard of umami. Not because I’m some sort of molecular gastronome, but because I attended a conference in Manila in November.

At that conference, I heard a food marketer describe how he had built a campaign around the concept of umami in the Philippines to transform perceptions of his product. It was an ingenious campaign too – it even included a cookery magazine and book full of umami-rich recipes targeting time-poor mothers who wanted to make their food taste better.

And who was this marketer extraordinaire? He was the Philippines marketing director for Japanese company Ajinomoto, owner of one of the world’s biggest brands of monosodium glutamate (MSG).

That’s right, MSG is umami-central, and Ajinomoto had fastened onto the concept of umami as a way of resuscitating the reputation of MSG. And it worked, judging by the attitude tracking scores this guy produced.

Now, rightly or wrongly, MSG’s name is still mud in most Western markets after a series of health concerns (clearly I’m not qualified to comment on whether there is reason for concern). So it’s going to be interesting to see whether any follow-ups to the current PR-led press reports make the link between MSG and umami. Would the shoppers at foodie haven Waitrose, the supermarket selling the new product, be so keen on it if they knew? Could be a brand backlash waiting to happen!


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Written by davidtiltman

February 10, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Marketing

Tagged with , , , ,

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