Hit Habit Forecast: Pickling life

Jun. 29, 2021
  • Viewpoints

Hit Habit Forecast is a regular column of the Hit Habit Makers, a group of young planners at Hakuhodo HQ that gamely stood up to say they were going to create hit habits—not hit products—as consumption shifts from purchasing things to purchasing experiences. Analyzing social media accounts and purchasing data of highly sophisticated users and conducting analysis on popular articles, etc. in a variety of media that have their fingers on the pulse of social trends, this is the bold, new challenge of forecasting hit habits that are about to break.


I’m Yu Nakagawa of the Hit Habit Makers.

At a regular meeting of the Hit Habit Makers the other day, I learned something surprising: everyone except me was pickling or preserving something at home. Some were doing plums, some vegetables. Wondering if this was just chance, I did some research and it seems it was a portent of a new trend.

Thus, today I’d like to discuss the topic “pickling life.” First, let’s have a look at the key word “tsukeru” (pickling or preserving) on Google Trends. The results show large, regular spikes in popularity. Searches increase every June. Doing an article search, it seems that more people start to steep plums for umeshū (plum wine) at that time, when the plums are harvested. Looking carefully, the spikes have been getting bigger each year. Besides this, we can see that searches in months other than June are also rising gradually. The act of pickling or preserving (which I’ve called “pickling life”) appears to have been growing year by year.

Searches for “tsukeru” (pickling/preserving)

Source: Google Trends

Asking people around me about this pickling life and analyzing articles and social media posts, I discovered that people are undertaking four kinds of pickling life.

First, making tsukemono, or Japanese pickled vegetables. Here, I found lots of articles about a boom in nukazuke, or pickling in salted rice bran. Searching nukazuke on Google Trends, I found that interest has been rising rapidly since late April 2020, when Japan’s first state of emergency was declared. Also, searching the hashtag nukazuke on Instagram brings up over 250,000 posts. Besides the typical vegetables, you can now enjoy pickling watermelons, avocados and boiled eggs, among other things.

Searches for “nukazuke” (pickling in salted rice bran)

Source: Google Trends

Second, we have pickling in vinegar. Several of our members are doing this, too. Pikurusu, or vegetables pickled in vinegar, is the big thing here. There are an extremely large number of posts, around 300,000, tagged pikurusu on Instagram. People put veggies in clear glass jars, and take photos to post. These pickled vegetables are certainly bright and eye-catching. One of our members told me you don’t even have to make your own pickling liquid. Ready-made options can often be seen on the shelves recently, so it’s really easy. Also, pickled cabbage is having a moment. This boom was sparked when pickled cabbage was talked about in the context of dieting, although it is not clear how effective it is.

Next, we have kōji, a fermented food made from cooked rice that has been inoculated with Aspergillus oryzae spores. You see salt kōji and soy sauce kōji in the shops these days. Marinating meat and fish in kōji not only makes them tastier; some also say it’s good for tenderizing them and neutralizing their funky smell. An extension of this, we now often see the word “hakkō okazu” (fermented dishes). Fermenting food in kōji increases its umami, makes it tastier and helps it keep longer, and some people now eat it to promote gut health.

Finally, we have preserving fruit. Here, plum syrup and plum wine are key examples. One online food retailer sells not only the food ingredients, but also kits for making these at home. These provide the opportunity to make the finished product, without the faff of doing the preparation. You also see fruit syrups a lot these days. Like pickled vegetables, these are becoming popular because colorful ingredients in glass jars look cute. The best ways to enjoy them, apparently, are diluted with soda water or mixed through yogurt. That makes them perfect for the heat and humidity today. I want to give it a go.

So why is pickling life growing in popularity now? I asked some people who are doing it what they think.

The first reason is that we are spending more time at home. Being home longer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are taking up pickling as a hobby. Another reason mentioned was the joy of creating something. After pickling ingredients, the process of patiently working out when the product will be at its best is good fun, apparently. Some say that pickling with their kids is a kind of food education. Then there’s the health argument. Many are pickling in anticipation of gut health, diet and beauty, and other benefits.

The pickling life trend is growing because it is perfect for the times. It’s forecast that even more people will begin the habit going forward, so new business opportunities will abound.

Examples of pickling life business opportunities
■ Developing smartphone apps that manage the pickling process for best results
■ Marketing pickling life kits for kids to help parents and children enjoy food education together
■ Condiment manufacturers continuously spurring people to take up the pickling life habit
And so on

As I mentioned at the start of this article, I was the only member of Hit Habit Makers at our meeting who was not pickling something, which vexed me somehow. So I’m going to start pickling something very soon. Lately, I’ve been busy and feeling tired. When I searched “recovery from fatigue” and “pickling,” a recipe for lemon slices preserved in honey came up. I still remember the sweet-sour flavor of lemon preserved in honey from my elementary school days when, in baseball club, one of my friend’s mothers would often make it to give to us when we had a practice game. I think I’ll make some this weekend.


Yu Nakagawa
Leader of the Hit Habit Makers
Team Leader, Sei-katsu-sha Experience Creative Division
Hakuhodo Inc.
Yu Nakagawa joined Hakuhodo as a mid-career hire in 2008 after working in product development at a manufacturer. As a Strategic Creative Director, he faces client and social challenges every day. He’s been hooked on tacos lately, and hunts out taco restaurants in Tokyo, where he eats most days.
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