May 30, 2015

Kirin’s Nespresso Inspired Innovation

Japan’s Kirin is to launch a craft beer service which allows the consumer to make their own fresh brew, at home, using a special server. Think beer on demand, Nespresso style. The service which is to be branded “Kirin Brewery Owners Club” will launch late in July and initially be available in Tokyo only, like Nespresso, orders will be taken online. Kirin plans to roll out the service nationwide in 2016; initially they have capacity to supply just 1000 households. The service will cost around JPY8000 per month. 
May 22, 2015

Mondelez goes Corporate in Japan

Mondelez is a large snack food business and in Japan has sales in excess of USD250m. To date it has focused on promoting product brands like Clorets and Halls, there has been little focus on the Mondelez name. Perhaps this is changing? Last week at a major railway station, the company had taken out advertising signboards on a whole range of dynamic billboards. The Mondelez name featured prominently. At a nearby CVS, they also had the same advertising at the cash register. Corporate advertising has historically been more important in Japan than many other markets. Consumers like to know who is behind the brands, the trade also seeks reassurance.
May 14, 2015

Familymart’s wonky advertising

New outdoor advertising from Familymart, currently the No 3 convenience store chain in Japan.  The slogan reads “whatever it will be, will be” – OK so you didn’t get it either…and I was holding the camera up the right way… Familymart is currently in talks with Sunkus/Circle K to merge operations. Familymart has over 11,000 outlets and Sunkus has 6,000. Any merger would make it a stronger rival to 7-Eleven and Lawson and another example of trade consolidation in Japan.
May 11, 2015

Inaccurate opinion polls? 5 secrets to boost research insights

If, like me, you enjoy political drama, last week’s UK general election was enthralling and the final result an unexpected twist. The two leading parties had gone into the contest with opinion polls consistently signalling a neck-and neck race and no clear winner. Pundits were pontificating on the rules of engagement for another hung parliament; the financial markets had priced in a period of weak government, there was even speculation of another election later in the year. The final exit poll, based on voters’ actual behaviour, showed a gap of more than 6% between the leading parties, far outside the 1% difference of preceding opinion polls. With all the counting completed the exit poll was vindicated but sceptics poured scorn on the preceding polls. The British Polling Council announced a post mortem enquiry. It is not the first time that the pollsters have been wrong footed, in the 1992 election
April 29, 2015

Ambitions of being an author? I rose to the challenge!

After nearly twenty years on the corporate ladder, the launch of a consultancy and beverage business, I finally forced myself to start and complete a task that has always lurked on my bucket list: write a book. I wasn’t yet ready to write a novel, though that remains my ultimate goal, so instead searched for an enjoyable and relevant business topic. I finally latched onto the Export Development Programme, a capability toolkit I’d designed for smaller companies, conceived whilst working with SE Asian and Japanese SMEs. In Asean SMEs (small and medium enterprises) account for 96% of businesses. Many have a strong desire to internationalise but lack a combination of experience, networks, resources, capability or technical skills to make it happen. Writing my book ended up taking three years, far longer than anticipated, with several stops, starts and rewrites on the way. What did I learn? 1.    Writing a book is much harder than Powerpoint! At school and university crafting essays
March 30, 2015

London’s Sushi Passion

I made a rare early winter trip to London last week. It was a mixture of business and pleasure and despite the weather (cold and damp) very enjoyable. When I left the UK to work in Asia, almost twenty years ago, there were very few Japanese restaurants in the city and those that existed were super expensive and priced to keep out every day folk. That’s certainly changed. There are now take out sushi bars in many railway stations as these photos illustrate. Living in Japan, it’s always fascinating to see how other places “interpret” and “market” Japanese food and it’s hard not to make comparisons. Nonetheless the UK is clearly a country more open to try new concepts than ever which is exciting and presents many business opportunities. I doubt many Japanese companies are participating in this though. Wasabi is not a restaurant brand name I know of here and I imagine
February 24, 2015

Healthy beer to supercharge Japan’s beverage market?

Tokuho or Foshu is a special category of foods and beverages allowed by the Japanese Government to carry “strong” functional health claims. Available since the early 1990s, there are now over 1000 SKUs in the Tokuho market. Now it seems the authorities are going to approve Tokuho non-alcoholic beers. Surprisingly perhaps, it is not Kirin or Asahi or even Suntory who will be on the start line but Sapporo and Kao. Kao is not even a beer producer but its Healthya tea series have long been popular and promoted with claims of reducing internal body fats. It recently launched a Healthya canned coffee, though my sources suggest it has not performed particularly strongly.   Kao’s non alcoholic beer is to be branded “Healthya malt style” whilst Sapporo’s offering will be called “Sapporo Plus.” Launch dates, never mind pack shots are yet to be released. Contact me if
February 23, 2015

Price increase minefield. Biggest challenge for CEOs?

In everyday consumer goods categories, it’s commonly accepted that raising prices can impact demand. Either consumers buy less frequently or worse switch to an alternative and never return. How long these effects last depend upon many factors including brand strength, competitive response and trade support. Here in Japan, household spending on food averages just under JPY70,000 a month but has been slowly creeping up in 2014, as the weaker yen has impacted raw material prices. Plus the Government is encouraging inflation (hoping that wage increases will follow).   Given the changing population demographics and the (historic) culture of business to offer life time employment, the food industry has been reluctant to raise prices, fearing tepid demand. Last April’s consumption tax increase did impact household spending longer than most anticipated.Never the less, more pr
February 16, 2015

Growing the Consumption of Japanese Cheese

Cheese consumption in Japan averages 2kg per person and whilst growing still remains below many western markets, French people by comparison eat over 25kg annually. The recent upswing in cheese is partly explained by a growing interest in international foods, a desire for fresh and natural produce and increased marketing and distribution. Nonetheless with current import tariffs soaring to 40% (processed) it is not surprising that retail prices are high, discouraging trial and lowering purchase frequency. I was in Hokkaido recently, where over 90% of domestic cheese is produced and chanced upon this hand-made camembert from Kobayashi. Whilst there are several famous, mass market brands, there is an emergence of smaller producers, like Kobayashi, targeting the premium consumer and the tourist market. Kobayashi’s camembert was creamy, but personally wish it had a stronger fla
February 9, 2015

Japan Pharma Eyes Asia Expansion

I was in Korea two weeks ago to present at a private industry conference about opportunities and trends in the OTC (over the counter) medicine market. The organisers were keen for insights on latest trends in Japan and where newcomers should look for business opportunities. Whilst the overall OTC market in Japan is flat (as in Europe and the USA), the sales of switch OTC products are growing and there have been some notable successes like Eve and Loxonin, cold and pain relief remedies, both with sales north of USD50m. More recently Allegra from Sanofi-Hisamitsu has shot up the market share charts. The Japanese health industry is facing multiple cross currents of change. Everyone knows the society is rapidly aging and so the Government is emphasising prevention. Health awareness is one of the highest globally, not surprising given the average person visits a Doctor eleven times a year. Retail channels are expanding. Leading drug store chains are adding pharmacy operations and key play
February 5, 2015

Kura Sushi Osaka

Yesterday I had lunch at a Kura kaiten (revolving) sushi restaurant on the outskirts of Osaka. Kura has approximately 18% share of sushi chains nationally and is strongest in the Kansai (West) region. Kaiten sushi is also a growing category in Japan. There are over 2000 outlets nationwide.   I really like kaiten sushi, it’s super convenient, fast and I believe healthier than many other lunch offerings. What amazed me about Kura was their method of plate counting…or should I say technology…yes you dispense with your plates at the end of the session as the photograph shows. Kura obviously embraces kaiten technology. They have this “shinkansen” style belt that zips special orders direct to customers at a bullet like speed. They also have a special serving tray


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