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I decided to flirt with a few ‘dishes’ from MUJI’s range of stripped back ambient meals – powering through its negative 'body language' to see if there was something good inside.
With retail starting to open its doors again, I found myself walking past a MUJI store in a fashionable part of London. My immediate thought was ‘do I have enough storage containers?’ but as I ventured inside, I was reminded how this retailer now plays in every aspect of modern living – from clothing to furniture and (eventually) suitcases.
MUJI represents a simplified form of living where design is prioritized over brand. As a movement, it’s completely in tune with a new generation of shopper who would rather invest in life experiences than over-priced stuff.
As I roamed the store, my basket getting heavier with bamboo stationery and ‘Green Log Fire’ candles, I was suddenly confronted by a wall of beige which, upon closer inspection, was offering ‘flat pack’ meals such as Ginger Pork Curry and Spinach & Cabbage Miso Soup. You may be ahead of me on this one, since the range was launched in the summer of 2018.
Working with MMR means constant exposure to the superb creative energies of our food and beverage companies. So, to be faced with slimline cardboard boxes giving off a vibe of a cheap paperback, I needed a moment to take it all in.
Was this a 70’s throwback that predated Fray Bentos – or more worrying, was this the future of food?
They say that the proof is in the pudding, but this isn’t strictly true. As I explored in my recent review of new Coke Zero, packaging not only sets up expectations of the subsequent product experience, but it also shapes the way we experience it.
If it’s packaged in beige, it’s going to taste beige.
Putting aside my expectations as best I could, I opened the foil pouch inside the box and served the contents hot with a little rice. The experience – you may be surprised to learn - turned out to be good. Visually, there could have been some actual diversity on the color spectrum – not least to convince me that the fruity flavors were as a result of some kind of fruit and not flavorings. But there was sufficient pork – albeit listed as 'Bacon 24%' on the reverse of pack.
In the post-mortem, the experience felt more suited to a camping trip than dinner time at home. The framing is far too functional – to the extent that it drowns out any hint of ‘food values.’
It’s not unusual to find Miso soup in powder form, so this experience did not feel as compromised as the curry. Nevertheless, the way that this product is configured does nothing to lift it from pure function. There are 4 ‘space age’ pouches containing a variety of dried ingredients, and one simply adds 160ml of boiling water to enliven the mix.
Again, product delivery is good. A nice balance of flavors with some interesting variation of texture. Some of the ingredients are not actually beige.
And so onto the final course and the most anticipated product in the range for me. I have been a fan of dahl ever since I made a trip to the Himalayan region of India ten years ago. I often make my own.
Despite some deficits on texture (a little too runny in my book), taste delivery was again surprisingly good. It has to be said however, that with expectations this low, product performance has a fairly low bar to jump.
Overall, MUJI’s obsession with simplified living really doesn’t work when it comes to food and nutrition. At the very least, they could have switched on some bold, vibrant colors to lift the packaging and the food values therein. No logo packaging might work for some household basics, but this is not the way to woo Generation Z when it comes to diet and lifestyle.
It’s tempting to rate MUJI’s foray into food as an ‘epic fail.’ Indeed, my investigations online suggest that the range may have been quietly pulled from the U.K. Also, my ‘long life’ Ginger Pork Curry was within weeks of breaching its best before date.
For a retailer supposedly in tune with modern living it has failed to see that Western society is not looking for stripped back dining experiences.
If there is appetite for a rethink, I would urge MUJI makes a special case for its food offer. First, it should refresh its color palette. The brand manual might not stretch to ‘vibrant’ but surely there is permission to be ‘less beige’? Second, I would repoint the range with trending ingredients such as goji berries, yuzu and maca. Surely MUJI customers like to think of themselves as ahead of the curve, so why can’t this be reflected in the food?
Failing this, I will suggest that they sell off excess stocks to a major camping retailer. With expectations this low, it might appeal to seasoned adventurers who put sustenance ahead of any kind of culinary appeal.
Sorry MUJI. I still love your underwear. But there's no chance of a second date here.
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