With Japan’s three biggest convenience store chains now all having their own premium brands, it’s time to see whose makes our stomachs the happiest.

Japanese convenience stores have come a long way in upping the deliciousness of their store brands. How far? Far enough that all three of Japan’s biggest chains now have not their own specialized premium store brands, promising extra-high-quality ingredients and flavor for a little extra cost.

7-Eleven kicked off the trend with its Premium Gold line. Rival chain Lawson later followed suit, and last month Family Mart launched its Famimaru Premium line. With all of the Big Three now at the table, we’re ready to start eating and find out whose premium offerings are the best, in a series we’re calling the Convenience Store Private Brand Showdown, and the battle begins with instant beef curry.

The rules are simple: we take each convenience store’s premium take on a dish, assemble a panel of taste testers from the SoraNews24 staff, and take a vote on which tastes the best. With the intense competition between Japan’s convenience stores, prices between 7-Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart tend to be pretty close to each other, so we’re not grading on any sort of cost/deliciousness curve here.

To prevent any brand biases, we plate each contender before taste-testing and simply designate them as A, B, and C, with their true identities only revealed to our panel after they pass judgement. For those of us not on the panel, though, let’s take a sneak peek at each contender.

● A: Family Mart’s Super Delicious Beef Curry (428 yen [US$2.85])

All three brands use much more flowery names in Japanese and simply designate them as “Beef Curry” on their English package text. The thing that sets Family Mart’s apart from the other chain’s is that the pouch doesn’t just have curry roux and beef, but potatoes too. No other toppings soak up curry flavor quite so thoroughly as potatoes do, but big slices of spuds are often lacking from instant curries.

● B: Lawson’s Chunky Beef! Fond de Veau Beef Curry (441 yen)

Lawson’s premium curry ingredient list includes French red wine and fond de veau (veal stock). Prior to packaging, the roux is cooked at low heat for three hours to ensure that the fruit and vegetable extracts permeate the mixture and that the beef becomes extra tender.

● C: 7-Eleven’s Premium Gold Beef Curry (473 yen)

Finally, 7-Eleven’s premium curry is also made with red wine, plus a mix of 18 different spices that give it an especially rich aroma.

All of the curries can be heated either by pouring them into a bowl and popping them in the microwave, or by boiling the unopened pouches in a pot of water. We opted for the later, and also cooked up a pot of rice in our rice cooker (which is a lot cheaper than using microwave rice packs). Then we called in our taste-testing panel, told them to dish up and eat as much as they liked, and give us their pick for the best-tasting of the bunch.

The panel consisted of (pictured left to right in the photo below) SoraNews24 founder Yoshio and reporters Go Hatori, P.K. Sanjun, Mr. Sato, and Masanuki Sunakoma.

Gentlemen, your judgements, please!

7-Eleven has a reputation for generally having the tastiest food out of the Big Three, and it’s a strong showing for them right out of the gate, with three votes for the Premium Gold Beef Curry.

“It’s delicious. This is the classic archetype for what curry should be,” said Masanuki. “The flavor is well-rounded and smooth, but with an enjoyable spicy taste and aroma. This is just the sort of flavor I’m looking for, and I think just about anyone who likes curry will like this.”

“7-Eleven’s flavor had the best balance,” agreed Mr. Sato. “It’s smooth enough that you can eat bite after bite without getting tired of the flavor or overwhelmed by it,” and Yoshio weighed in with “If you like spices in your curry, this one is the best! It’s got a great balance between sweet and spicy sensations. This is the sort of thing I want to always keep a stock of in my kitchen.”

Moving on to the opinions of our dissenting judges, of Lawson’s Chunky Beef! Fond de Veau Beef Curry, P.K. felt “From the very first moment, I could taste the fond de veau. It gives this a strong umami sensation that the others don’t have, and the way the spiciness gives way to a clean finish is exquisite.”

Finally, in choosing Family Mart’s Super Delicious Beef Curry, Go said “This is a very curry rice-style curry. It’s that familiar, comforting flavor you’d get ordering curry at a baseball stadium, or eating it in a school cafeteria. Even little kids would enjoy this.”

It’s worth pointing out, though, that none of our taste-testers thought any of the curries tasted bad, with about the harshest thing anyone had to say was that Lawson’s orthodox curry didn’t leave much of a lasting impression on them. In terms of picking a winner, though, Round 1 of the Convenience Store Private Brand Showdown goes to 7-Eleven.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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