Ajinomoto brand is the product of a Japanese company known as Ajinomoto Co. Inc. primarily manufacturing monosodium glutamate ( MSG ) in addition to other types of seasonings, ready to eat meals, cooking oils, amino acids, sweeteners and pharmaceuticals. It is by far the most widely used seasoning across the globe for certain dishes of Japanese, Chinese, Korean and other East Asian cuisine.
Ajinomoto, monosodium glutamate, was discovered and patented by a chemist called Dr. Kikunae Ikeda and was first sold in Japan in the year 1909. The first production of Ajinomoto monosodium glutamate was done at the Zushi factory in Japan. Dr. Ikeda was on a two year stay in Germany, when he first stumbled upon the idea that there exists a fifth taste other than the standard four – sweet, salty, sour and bitter. He named this fifth taste Umami. He found this unique fifth taste of Umami in the Konbu seaweed and other dried fish based broth which contains glutamic acid salts and residues.
With a view to improve the overall nutritional health of Japanese people in every household, he wanted to explore the commercial aspect of production of monosodium glutamate. He approached Saburosuke Suzuki who dealt in iodine production, and together with him launched the production of this seasoning which became a household name in no time, giving a new taste to kitchens of many homes across the world.
Years ago Ajinomoto pioneered in innovative marketing technique by advertising on horse carts which were in use in those times, around early 1900s. They were also the first to distribute product samples, a completely new and unheard of concept in those times. A national campaign was launched to popularize the product by propagating with marching bands to create awareness among the retail shopkeepers. He also started the Road Stamp technique of promoting his product, under which the products were written about on the main roads with chalk, to invite public curiosity. The front runner for all these activities was Saburo Suzuki - son of Saburosuke Suzuki – who was all of 19 years of age.
Ajinomoto Co. Inc. was well aware of the importance of overseas sales and thus right from the very beginning emphasized the same. They started launching their main products in Taiwan, Korea and then to China. The sales of their products exceeded their expectations as it came to be widely used in restaurants, homes, canteens and food stalls. By 1916 they had opened their branch office in Shanghai and then in the following year in 1917 they opened their first branch office out of Asian shores in New
York, USA. By 1931 sales offices came up in Singapore, Hongkong, Taipei, Seoul and Dalian.
It was only in the year 1946 that Ajinomoto got its present name of Ajinomoto Co. Inc. Prior to this, since 1907 the company was known as Suzuki Seiyakusho Co. Ajinomoto has a registered trademark in Indonesia and Thailand. Today the Ajinomoto group of companies has under its wings – Ajinomoto USA, Inc., Ajinomoto North America LLC, Ajinomoto Food Ingredients LLC, Calpis, Omni Chem Natural Specialities and Amoy Food Limited of France.
However Ajinomoto Co. Inc. has been involved in various controversies over the years. In the mid 1990s it was involved in the Lysine price fixing controversy where the Lysine ( a type of amino acid based product ) price shot up by 70% in the initial nine months. They were involved in Muslim Indonesia scandal in 2001, which claimed that a pork based enzyme was being used in manufacturing Monosodium Glutamate. They also got involved with Asda - which is a British supermarket chain and also a part of the Wal-Mart chain of departmental stores – concerning its aspartame product.
Ajinomoto operates from 23 countries across the world and its products are sold in over 130 countries of the world. Major brands of Ajinomoto Co. Inc. are Aji No Moto, Hon Dashi, Pure Select, Cook Do, Ajinomoto kk consommé, Knorr, Calpis and the Jino series of cosmetics.
The products of Ajinomoto Co. Inc. can be divided into primarily 3 segments:
- Food Products – Ajinomoto started with the Monosodium Glutamate ( MSG ) but today produces a wide range of food products. These include other than seasonings and sauces, soups, cereals, coffee products, mayonnaise, dressings, edible oils, frozen foods, bakery products, gift packs and beverages.
A special mention needs to be made of aspartame which is sold under the product name Amino sweet. Currently, Ajinomoto is the largest manufacturer of aspartame, in the world. This business was acquired from the world renowned Monsanto company in the year 2000.
Also vital to mention is that Ajinomoto is the market leader in the production of glutamine sold under the product name Amino Acid L – Glutamine.
- Aminoacid Products – Amino acids are essential nutrients in our body, making up protein and constituting atleast 20 % of our body. Ajinomoto thus manufactures many aminoacid based products which range from sweeteners, functional foods, Jino series of cosmetics, speciality chemicals, feed use amino acids, to amino acids for pharmaceuticals and foods.
- Pharmaceutical and Health Products - This basically consist of various types of pharmaceuticals and fundamental food products.
Ajinomoto Co. Inc. has a popular slogan which says : Eat Well, Live Well.
- In 1909 Ajinomoto won the bronze medal at the first exhibition of Japanese Inventions.
- In 1929 the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed Ajinomoto’s head office and the Kawasaki factory.
- Ajinomoto produces one third of the world’s monosodium glutamate.
- Presently the head office of Ajinomoto Co. Inc. is located in Chuo in Tokyo, Japan.
- The words Aji no moto in Japanese means the ‘ Essence of Taste ‘.
- Ajinomoto USA, Inc. was established in the year 1956.
- Ajinomoto Co. Inc. celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009.
- Presently Mr.Masatoshi Ito is the Representative Director, President and Chief Executive Officer for Ajinomoto Co. Inc.
- Ajinomoto opened a soccer stadium in Tokyo, Japan in the year 2003.