Printer Friendly

As coffee comes of age in Japan, brands heed call for more focused identities.

As coffee comes of age in Japan, brands heed call for more focused identities

Near the end of the 19th century, in the midst of the Meiji era, the stirrings of a new cultural awakening began to be felt in Japan. Among one of the more unlikely items at its forefront was the, until then, primarily western drink: coffee.

Today, Japan is the third largest coffee consumer, with a complete mystique and culture surrounding the drink, one which some people have compared to tea drinking. The marketing of this culture, led at first by private Japanese coffee companies, has now attracted the attention of global package goods conglomerates such as Nestle and General Foods.

Though its history in Japan has been relatively brief, the "Japanization" of coffee has evolved to such a degree that exportation of this phenomenon is now being seriously considered. The Western world's consumer markets should perhaps begin to brace for yet another well-marketed, niche-aimed Japanese product: coffee.

The Early Development

In the final 30 years of the 19th century, coffee was fueled in popularity in Japan by a general fascination among most Japanese with Western and European civilization. The so called French Culture Boom of the 1880's, which espoused a "western" experience encompassing music, art, and literature, promulgated coffee as the natural beverage to be consumed while discussing Western ways. Concurrent with this movement, large numbers of Japanese were immigrating to Brazil seeking agricultural fame and fortune. The Brazilian government's response at the time was a large gift of coffee to Japan, attempting to further relations between the two countries.

In 1920, Yokohama, a city with a large Western population, saw the founding of Kimura Coffee Company and the establishment of its brand: Key Coffee.

Kimura's founder, Bunji Shibata, would later say that "the history of Key Coffee is the history of coffee in Japan." It is very true, as Key Coffee, like many of its early competitors, stressed the quality of its product and sold not only to hotels and restaurants but to the kissaten as well. The kissaten or coffeehouses, were instrumental in the early rise of coffee's popularity, being places where people could gather, relax, and socialize, all while enjoying coffee.

The kissaten embodied many of the elements that would help to build on coffee's mystique. It was a separate establishment catering to those individuals who wished to demonstrate their sophistication and worldliness. It became a place for Western culture to be embraced and a place for the savoring of a special drink in an environment created especially for it. Then, as well as today, many individuals did not have offices that were suitable for receiving guests, therefore, the kissaten also served as a surrogate office for business.

The popularity and direct sales channel that these coffeehouses represented lasted well into the 70's before being eroded by new distribution methods, but not before having left an indelible stamp upon Japanese coffee culture.

West Meets East Meets West

Since the 70's, Japan has undergone accelerated Westernization brought about by world communications and business growth and the related foreign business/cultural influences.

Its newfound affluence and leisure propel coffee consumption at double digit growth rates with corresponding changes in distribution channels.

The kissatens have gravitated towards either the high or the low end of the spectrum. Some companies now operate fast-food coffeeshops with great success, and the high end remains attractive and luxurious as well: $5 cups of coffee made to your specifications of bean roast and brew method in French cafe-style surroundings with classical music.

However, the greatest competition has occured with coffee's expansion into supermarkets, neighborhood stores, and gourmet coffee shops where you buy the goods necessary to make your own coffee in your own home.

Keiji Otha, senior executive managing director of Key compared marketing coffee today versus the past. He said, "The coffee market has changed a great deal in 70 years. More people are drinking coffee, and they are drinking it at different times and in different places.

"We are not concerned with the comparison of the regular coffee market with the instant coffee market.

"The home market and the office market are vital for the coffee industry today."

The Individual Purchaser

This phenomenal change has created new opportunities and attracted some of the major coffee players of the world. The increased competition has forced independent roasters, like Key Coffee, to rethink their brand and corporate indentities.

To this end, Key Coffee, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary, has adopted a new corporate and retail identity to strengthen and unify the already well-known brand throughout all of its marketing and distribution channels. The new identity seeks to raise consumer awareness for all of the company's products and to reinforce the quality image of Key Coffee.

Ohta feels Key Coffee has always been committed to quality and technology. Our new identity retains our traditional brand loyalty and emphasizes our focus on creating a new coffee culture.

"It emphasizes our appeal to the national market and identifies our deep traditions.

"And, for our Key Coffee family of employees, this new identity focuses on our joint mission of developing human resources along with economic prosperity."

More universal in appeal to consumers, the new identity was also sought by Key to raise the consciousness of its internal audience. The developers of this new identity program, Hiro Komatsu and Hoi L. Chu, principals respectively of Cultural Marketing Inc., California, and H.L. Chu & Company, New York, felt that new opportunities and niches were still waiting to be tapped in the retail market, by Key Coffee's own staffers needed a fresh perspective. Now, the marketing staff is seeking to heighten their ability to spot and create new trends in the unique coffee culture of Japan.

Recently, Chu reflected on the changing business environment in Japan that pushes companies like Key Coffee towards a rethinking of their identities. "This is a case where the global competitors have profoundly changed the rules of the game while on the local company's home court. This forces the company to reexamine its basic strategy to better adapt to the new environment. In short, global competition finally hits home."

Reflecting on the company's new outlook on marketing, Otha says, "We are entering a new era for the coffee industry. There is a new scene for coffee. Key Coffee will continue to create a new coffee culture, as it has been doing for the last 70 years."

PHOTO : Key Coffee was established originally as Kimura Coffee Co. At that time, "Key" was used as

PHOTO : the brand name.

PHOTO : New packaging for Key Coffee.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Faddis, Harry; Aldridge, Lee
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Colombia expects loss in export earnings.
Next Article:What coffees are available from Indonesia?

Related Articles
Canada pursues coffee marketing ideas.
International trends and their influences: from bistro cooking to eau-de-vie, Armani and more.
UCC brand = RTD coffee.
Japanese coffee consumption rising but number of coffee drinkers remains stagnant.
Going global, Segafredo Zanetti puts its name on espresso.
Coffee as content.
Hotel coffee service: how to land the account.
The role of a good barista in retail strategy.
Live or die retail success principles: Part I: it's all in the brand: branding is everything, and everything is branding.
New coffee brand to boost farmers' income.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters