Confectionery maker Yoku Moku eyes cashing in on Asian gift culture

"The key to success in Asia is localization," Yoku Moku CEO Takeshi Fujinawa says during an interview with NNA on April 8.

By Takeshi Suga

TOKYO, NNA - Japanese confectionery maker Yoku Moku hopes to capitalize on Asian gift culture as it further promotes its brand abroad in the 50th year of its establishment.

“In Japan, our products are often used as mid-year and end-of-year gifts. In the areas of Chinese culture, such as in Hong Kong and Taiwan, gifts are exchanged during the Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays. We believe there are opportunities to utilize our strength there,” Yoku Moku CEO Takeshi Fujinawa said in an interview with NNA.

The Tokyo-based company best known for its Cigare cookies has set a goal of increasing the proportion of overseas sales to 10 percent of total sales from the current 5 percent under its 10-year management plan toward September 2029.

The company has 70 stores abroad, of which 51 are in the United States. In the Asian region, it has advanced into Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and India, he said, adding that the company is moving ahead with launching more stores.

“At this stage, we still consider Japan as our key market, but in the future we will need to increase our proportion of overseas sales. At present, we are (putting more efforts in) investigating the future needs of each market, rather than exploiting overseas markets.”

“When we introduce a product that sells well in Japan to an overseas market, we don’t expect it to be used in the same way. We work with our local partners to explore various local needs. We believe we need to develop products that are more in line with lifestyles and values than in Japan, and we intend to dig deeper into localization.”

For example, in India, where there are many vegetarians, Yoku Moku is “currently developing egg-free confectionary items for vegetarians. Of course, the taste is different from products that contain eggs, but we are planning some products in pursuit of our own unique flavor.”

There is a gift culture in India as well, he said. “There is a Hindu festival called Diwali, which involves the custom of exchanging gifts. Also, since wedding ceremonies in India are quite large, the need for gifts for guests can be expected.”

Yoku Moku’s 50th anniversary packages. (Photo courtesy of Yoku Moku)

The company entered the Indian market after a current business partner in that country came to know Yoku Moku when the firm previously had a business in the Middle East, he said.

As other localized items outside of India, “We have launched tea- and coffee-flavored cookies as limited-release products for Taiwan. Japan is visited by many tourists from Taiwan, many of whom purchase our products as souvenirs. We needed to differentiate the products. If the same products sold in Japan were being sold in Taiwan, it would lack a sense of novelty.”

To keep their high standards, “the products we sell overseas are basically produced in Japan, then exported,” except for some fresh confectioneries, according to Fujinawa.

“If our overseas sales increase in the future, it would probably be more efficient to produce in the areas of consumption, but that’s not the case at the moment.”

The company has been launching products and events to express its gratitude to its customers as this year marks the 50th anniversary of its founding.

“Overseas, we have been selling 50th anniversary packages of cigar-shaped Cigare cookies from May 1,” Fujinawa said.

“The packages have the 50th anniversary logo and designs representing the countries and territories in which we operate, such as the tuk-tuk in Thailand, lantern in Taiwan, junk ship in Hong Kong and Macau, and sitar in India.”

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