To be able to heat it whenever it's needed, even a single serving at a time. Against a backdrop of social changes including an increasing number of dual income households and a rapidly aging population, the market for curry packed in retort pouches has continued to grow. In 2017, the scale of the market for retort pouch curry surpassed curry roux for the first time. However, the origins of this innovative packaging within the Otsuka group is not very well known. Bon Curry was launched in 1968 as the world's first retort pouch consumer food product. This was an entirely new challenge for members of the Otsuka group of pharmaceutical companies.
In the 1960s, head of Otsuka Pharmaceutical Factory Akihiko Otsuka received a hint for Bon Curry from an article published by the US Army Natick Lab in Modern Packaging, a specialized packaging publication. The article introduced vacuum-packed sausages as replacements for canned versions of portable combat rations. He wondered if this technology could be applied to create a curry product that could be easily heated for consumption. In those days, curry was available in cans, but an easy-to-use retort pouch could be a definite advantage. Intuiting that lifestyles were surely on the brink of change, this foresight became the motivator behind the development of commercial retort pouch curry.
Sterilization technology developed by Otsuka played a significant role in development of Bon Curry. Retort ovens featuring this technology were used for repeated testing of curry subjected to high-temperature sterilization in retort pouches. When heated, the content of the pouch would expand, requiring application of pressure. This balance of heat and pressure was difficult to achieve, and with each failed test, the laboratories became increasingly redolent of curry. Determined to use fresh, not frozen potatoes, buds were removed by hand. Calculated to facilitate high temperature pressure sterilization, it was necessary to devise new ways to cut the ingredients. Through repeated trial and error, Bon Curry evolved into “curry that tastes like home cooking.”
Initially launched for test marketing in Japan's Hanshin region in February 1968, Bon Curry debuted in dual-layered high-density polyethylene and polyester retort pouches. Due to loss of flavor from light and oxygen, shelf-life was short. . The seals were identified as a problem and the packages were not able to withstand strong vibrations. Despite being first-of-its-kind, the product was not a success. Some packages swelled and fell from the shelves, leading to banter that “Bon Curry comes out for a stroll at night…” As a result of these experiences, the development team improved the retort technology, adopting a three-layered aluminum foil pouch. Resolution of these shelf-life problems facilitated long-term storage and Bon Curry was launched nationwide in Japan in May 1969.
At that time, a single serving of curry rice could be purchased at a cafeteria for 100 yen. And one package of Bon Curry cost 80 yen. The general impression was that the price was high, and Otsuka worked on promoting test consumption. The company installed more than 100,000 enamel advertising boards throughout Japan, promoting the benefits of Bon Curry. These efforts eventually bore fruit, with annual sales reaching 100 million packs per year five years after product launch. Bon Curry has always been affected by social change. In the 1980s a greater number of women joined the work force, while in the 1990s decline and overall aging of the population led to an increase in the number of people living alone. A pouch that could be heated in a microwave was developed in 2003 in response to increased “single meals.” Having marked more than half a century since its 1968 debut, Bon Curry continues to evolve with changing times while always delivering family flavor.