Move Over Beef and Chicken, Cup Noodles Is Embracing Vegetables

Consumer demand for healthier fare finally reaches the high-sodium granddaddy of them all

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The most revolutionary instant foodstuff in American cupboards—with apologies to Tang, Ovaltine, Minute Rice and Taster’s Choice—has got to be Cup Noodles. Since 1973, this polystyrene cup of deep-fried ramen has percolated into a hot and cheap meal for millions with nothing more than the addition of water.

But times change, and while hungry hoards of past generations have been willing to overlook Cup Noodles’ notoriously unhealthy side (in particular, its low nutritional content and correspondingly high sodium hit), many of today’s consumers are not. In response, Nissin Foods returned to its test kitchens to develop a new recipe for its famous brand, which debuts today.

Dubbed a “step forward in improving its nutritional makeup,” the new Cup Noodles Very Veggie boasts 20 percent less sodium, no added MSG and no artificial flavors. Perhaps most notable, though, is the full serving of vegetables that Nissin’s R&D department has added to its three Very Veggie varieties.

“Everyone knows eating more vegetables is a good thing,” said marketing director Jaclyn Park, who added that “consumers have been asking for more vegetables in our products for years.”

Actually, consumers have been adding their own vegetables for years—enough that in 2015 Nissin rolled out a redesigned Cup Noodles with extra room at the top for people to toss in whatever ingredients they wanted. According to Park, company research showed that vegetables were the second most commonly added item. For this round of product evolution, she said, “we gave consumers what they want by making a line that would include a full serving of vegetables inside the product.”

Park’s observations about customers demanding greens in their food isn’t hyperbole: Independent research backs it up. In a report issued earlier this year, food and restaurant consultancy Baum + Whiteman observed that “vegetables in 2017 will extend their domination of the dinner plate, shoving animal protein to the edges … or off the plate altogether.” And according to the 2017 Mintel Global Food and Drink Trends report, last year saw a 257 percent increase in vegan food and beverage launches compared to five years prior.

While Cup Noodles’ veggie-added varieties introduced today are still the classic beef and chicken flavors, Nissin has left open the door for a vegetable-only Cup Noodles down the road. “If we receive a positive consumer response, the line could grow to include a vegetarian option,” she said.