Could ramen displace instant macaroni and cheese as the next comfort food that requires just boiling water?
According to a newly released industry report by Global Industry Analysts Inc., by 2017 sales of instant noodles are expected to exceed 154 billion packs. And it won’t be just the traditional Asian market where sales will grow, analysts say.
Hectic lifestyles, the convenience factor, and the variety of flavor possibilities will also see demand for the cheap instant noodles grow in the Western world, where consumers have developed a palate for Asian flavors thanks to the influence of rapidly expanding Asian communities.
And instead of being served just as a late-night snack, instant noodles are being consumed as a meal substitute, analysts say.
Flavors are moving beyond the classic beef, chicken and squid variety, satisfying every sort of craving from Chinese-style wakame or seaweed, Indian-style masala and curry, Korean-style kimchi and seafood.
One of the most popular brands that can be found in grocery stores across major urban centers in the US and Canada, for instance, includes Shin Ramyun from South Korea, a hot and spicy noodle soup that comes with a pack of dehydrated vegetables.
Other familiar instant noodle brands include Maggi, popular in Australia; Pot Noodle in the UK; and Sapporo Ichiban worldwide.
Consumption habits also vary across the Asian region.
For example, the report found that Indonesians spend more than a whopping 70 percent of their disposable income on instant noodle products.
Next come the Chinese, who spend about 56 percent of their disposable income on instant ramen and South Koreans who spend 33 percent, followed by Thai consumers who spend 30 percent.
Aside from China, where per capita consumption of instant noodles is relatively low, the report also singled out the Middle East and Africa as other emerging markets.
But while a growing number of people may be turning to the convenience food as a meal replacement, instant noodles have long been slammed for being a salt and fat bomb, as noodles are typically deep-fried before being dehydrated and the soup base loaded with salt.