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A Japanese rice vinegar company is now the world’s undisputed king of pasta sauce

Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo
Jarred gold.
By Max Nisen
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Mizkan Group has its origins in the early 1800s, when the son of a family of sake makers figured out a cheap way to make rice vinegar from the liquor’s leftovers. Though it’s since expanded in the centuries since into seasonings and other condiments, Mizkan just made its boldest expansion to date: its $2.15 billion purchase of Unilever’s Ragú and Bertolli brands, making it the new global leader in a very different category—pasta sauce.

Buying Ragú alone would have done the job. The world’s leading pasta sauce brand, Ragú sells more than any other individual company’s portfolio post-deal, with $669.5 million in retail sales last year. The runner-up is a group of brands owned by Heinz that has a combined $656.9 million retail sales value and 7.8% of the global market. Here’s the breakdown of individual brands by global market share (“Mizkan group (combined)” refers to the combined shares of Ragú and Bertolli):

The company will be even more dominant in the US’s $2.4-billion pasta sauce market: Ragú is already more than $100 million in retail sales ahead of Campbell Soup’s Prego, the biggest rival. With Bertolli ranked fourth, that gives Mizkan’s pasta sauce brands more than a third of US sales:

And although the company will now be a big fish in the pasta segment, in the overall sauces and condiments category—which include hot sauces, bouillon and stock cubes, powder mixes, among other things—Mizkan will still be but a minnow. The overall leaders is Knorr, which sells a dizzying array of just about every product mentioned in the category, all under a single brand. Japanese companies have an outsize influence, but not due to Mizkan. Instead, it’s House and S&B, both famous for curry sauces and powders, that reach the top. Here’s the roundup of retail sales market share by brand:

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