On March 29, Tokyo-based vegan brand Next Meats will launch its plant-based barbecue meat products at select locations of Japanese superstore Ito Yokado. Customers will be able to find Next Meats’ vegan kalbi (barbecue short ribs) and harami (skirt steak) in the meat department alongside animal-derived versions of these products, which the company says signals a paradigm shift in Japan. 

“Plant-based meats are becoming increasingly popular and available around the world and Japan, but most products were typically displayed in the soy products, dried foods, or preserved food sections, which undoubtedly contributed to consumers’ lack of interest and association that it is a viable protein substitute,” Next Meats said in a statement. “However with a superstore chain like Ito Yokado displaying Next Meats’ plant-based meats alongside animal meat, alternative proteins may finally be recognized as an equally sufficient source of protein as regular meat.”

Founded in 2020, Next Meats aims to raise awareness around the damaging effects of animal agriculture in Japan and offer alternatives to popular meat cuts. The brand’s kalbi and harami can also be found on the menu at Yakiniku Like, a Japanese barbecue restaurant with locations across Japan.

Japan’s vegan movement

In recent years, a number of startups similar to Next Meats have emerged to introduce vegan options in Japan—a country where fully plant-based meals are often hard to find. One such startup is DAIZ, which raised a 650 million yen ($6 million) investment last May with the purpose of building Japan’s largest plant-based meat factory with the goal of producing 3,000 tons of vegan meat annually. 

From 2018 to 2020, the number of vegan restaurants in Japan increased from 400 to 1,000 and plant-based options are growing at both large and small restaurants across the country. Last year alone, Japan’s most popular fast-food chain Mos Burger added the vegan Green Burger to its locations in Tokyo and Kanagawa; IKEA Japan added a variety of plant-based meal options, including a vegan version of katsu curry made with a soy cutlet instead of traditional pork or chicken; and Burger King added the Plant-Based Whopper—featuring a soy-based patty by Australian vegan brand v2food—to select locations across Japan for a limited time.