Instant Noodles Have Never Been Bigger

People are flocking to instant ramen amidst inflated grocery prices.

As inflation leaves us looking for ways to stretch our dollars, especially at the grocery store, there are a few tried-and-true pantry staples that keep us fed during lean times—and one of the most beloved is instant noodles. They can be eaten at home or taken to work, they require just a few minutes and a microwave to prepare, they go well with an impressive amount of mix-ins, and most importantly of all, they're reliably affordable. But even knowing how important instant noodles are to the average shopper, a new report on the number of instant noodles sold last year is still staggering.


Sales of instant noodles hit an all-time high last year

Nikkei Asia reports that according to data from the World Instant Noodles Association, last year's global sales of instant noodles topped 121.2 billion servings, an all-time high. It's the seventh straight year that the segment has grown, even after a 9.5% spike in global demand during the 2020 pandemic year. That's a lot of slurping.


The largest markets in 2022 were China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, and Japan. But what's really interesting is that the Mexican market craved noodles like no other: Demand went up by 17.2% in 2021, and 11% last year. I'm all about infusing ramen with Mexican-inspired flavors; I keep a few containers of these Tapatio-flavored noodles in my pantry at all times.

Instant noodles are getting creative

Earlier this year, I got to try an unusual pancake-flavored ramen from Nissin Foods, maker of the popular Cup Noodles brand. We were shocked to discover this gimmicky product was actually tasty, and a huge step up from the equally headline-grabbing pumpkin spice noodles released in 2021. Nissin is also responsible for these caffeinated noodles, currently only available in Japan, targeted at gamers who want to fuel marathon gaming sessions. In short, the brand knows how to keep things interesting.


The creativity can come from the consumer's end, too—because instant ramen doesn't just have to be slurped out of a bowl or cup. Those noodles are versatile enough to be tossed in a summer salad, or used as the "bread" in a sandwich, or even just eaten straight from the bag.

Instant noodles have also been hit by inflation

It's not that instant noodles are impervious to inflation. They've been hit just like everything else, and somewhat dramatically. In Japan, throughout both 2022 and 2023, instant noodle prices increased by 10%, but despite the price hikes, they're still one of the more affordable all-in-one meals in the instant foods category, and so sales have not been all that affected.


"Middle-class consumers who did not eat instant noodles before are now incorporating them into their daily lives," Nissin Foods told Nikkei Asia. It's a takeaway noted by ramen manufacturer Toyo Suisan as well, who told the paper, "The number of consumers who regularly eat instant noodles is going up, and we will increase our variety of flavors moving forward."