American candy lovers know the Kit Kat bar. But few would recognize the varieties sold in Japan. Such as the green tea or soy sauce Kit Kat. Or the pickled plum or mashed edamame edition. 200 kinds of Kit Kat bars have been sold in Japan over the years. We get a taste of Japan’s Kit-Kat obsession, Akiko Fujita checked out the candy in Tokyo. (Photo:Fugutabetai Shyashin)
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KATY CLARK: You’ve only got another day to pick up your Halloween candy. A perennial favorite is Kit Kat bars. Those chocolate-covered wafers. They’re popular here in the US but candy consumers in Japan love them so much that Nestle Japan has come out with 200 flavors of Kit Kats. Akiko Fujita has the story.
[SOUNDS FROM CONVENIANT STORE]
AKIKO FUJITA: A trip to a Japanese convenient store can be overwhelming. There’s a drinks corner stocked with 30 different types of coffee drinks. Winter barbeque and tomato and garlic-flavored Pringles line the snack isle. Then there’s the chocolate section – specifically the Kit Kat section.
MISAKI OOKINO: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
FUJITA: Misaki Ookino tells me she’s always looking to try a new Kit Kat flavor out of curiosity. And there’s no shortage of them. There’s the salty caramel Kit Kats; the green tea Kit Kat; the ginger ale flavored Kit Kat; and the Tokyo limited edition soy sauce Kit Kat.
SACHIKO FUKASU: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
FUJITA: Sachiko Fukasu doesn’t bat an eye when I tell her about Nestlé’s latest creation – the vegetables galore Kit Kat. She says it’s probably a good choice for vegetarians. Nestle Japan says it’s released 200 Kit Kat flavors in the past decade. The company credits its success in Japan to a marketing campaign it launched five years ago. The ad targeted high school students. It played on the similarities between the words Kit Kat and Japanese words “Kitto Katsu” which means “you will surely win.” Students started using them as good luck charms and sales soared.
This ad release last year shows a high school student as she gets ready to take an entrance exam. She’s clutching a Kit Kat she personally decorated with rhinestones. Nestle claims its marketing campaign has worked so well a quarter of Japanese high school students now bring Kit Kats with them to exams. But advertising expert Mike Fiorella says Nestlé’s marketing strategy isn’t exactly unique here.
MIKE FIORELLA: The Japanese retailers are fighting tooth and nail with so many other retailers surrounding them there’s this incentive to constantly introduce new products on their store shelves.
FUJITA: Fiorella says companies want to keep spending habits up by introducing unusual flavors and giving consumers reasons to buy. Many of the snacks only sell for a limited time or in specific regions. That caters to Japan’s “omiage” or gift-giving culture where consumers are expected to bring back something unique for friends and colleagues when they travel. For example the cherry blossom flavored Kit Kat is only sold in the spring. The potato Kit Kat was only sold in the country’s northern Hokkaido region, an area known for spuds. A nestle spokesman says the limited edition flavors stay on store shelves for average of two months before they’re replaced with new ones. Fiorella says the marketing cycle in Japan is unlike anything in the US.
FIORELLA: If you go to any United States supermarket now the array of product on the shelves does not differ that significantly, okay, in terms of major brands to what it was when I left the United Stats in 1987. In Japan it’s changed over dozens and dozens and dozens of times.
FUJITA: Nestle is looking to build on its success and it’s constantly monitoring convenience store sales to tap into the needs and desires of consumers. Last year it introduced Kit Kat mail – a chocolate bar packaged in a box that comes with a mailing label so consumers can buy it, write an address, and mail it to a friend in need of a good luck charm. For The World I’m Akiko Fujita in Tokyo.
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