• Kyodo

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Easy to eat foods for people needing nursing care are improving in quality and availability as makers look to tap a growing market in rapidly graying Japan.

Food makers are offering a growing variety of soft-food products with essential nourishment for people who have difficulty chewing and swallowing, while the products are also getting greater prominence on supermarket shelves.

Kewpie Corp., for example, has 54 items in five categories, varying in degree of softness and thickness, in its Yasashii Kondate (Gentle Menu) series of packaged foods for the elderly.

Among such items are potage of beef and burdock root, and potage of flatfish and Japanese radish, each with a suggested price of ¥180, excluding tax.

Kewpie, better known for its flagship mayonnaise, developed soft foods for the elderly by using its baby food-production technology, taking its cue from customers who used baby foods for people who need nursing support, according to company officials.

“We want everyone — not only people requiring nursing support but also those with a weakened swallowing function — to enjoy eating through the meals we serve,” said an official at Kewpie, which launched its packaged meals for the elderly 20 years ago.

Meiji Co. started selling a new series of its Mei Balance Mini Cup nutritional supplement drink in late September. The company said a 125-ml Mei Balance Mini Cup is rich in energy with 200 kilocalories, containing indispensable nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber.

With a wide assortment of flavors, the product also targets undernourished people as well as those who suffer from mouth injuries like a fractured jaw.

“We will offer products aimed at nutritionally supporting the elderly because an increasing number of people receive nursing care at home nowadays,” a Meiji official said, noting that elderly people may face malnutrition if they lose their appetite or eat a poor diet.

Major supermarket chain Ito-Yokado Co. has earmarked shelf space for food items targeting people needing nursing care at 105 of its 180 stores nationwide, according to its parent, Seven & I Holdings Co.

In late September, an elderly woman in a wheelchair at a store in Tokyo’s Oimachi neighborhood consulted with a sales clerk at a section devoted to foods for the elderly.

About 300 food items were on offer, and popular foods include prepackaged items such as nikujaga (simmered meat and potatoes) and sukiyaki, and frozen food such as boiled mackerel with miso sauce, according to the store.

The store used to display foods for elderly people according to the degree of easiness to eat, as classified by the government.

But the store now sorts out products by food type, such as Japanese cuisine and Chinese food, in response to customers’ requests.

Since then, sales of nursing-care foods have increased some 20 percent a year, Ito-Yokado said.

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