Regional confectionery makers breaking dependence on tourists

Courtesy of Ishiya Co. / Jiji Press
The venue for Ishiya Co.’s planned first overseas outlet in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Amid the novel coronavirus crisis, regional confectionery makers in Japan have started efforts to review their business models, which depend on demand from tourists, by developing new products or expanding sales channels.

According to Tokyo-based research company Fuji Keizai Co., the domestic market of confectionery souvenirs in 2020 shrank 43 pct from the previous year to ¥230 billion, as the virus crisis led to a plunge in the number of leisure and business travelers and eliminated demand from foreign visitors.

Aoyagi Souhonke, a long-established maker of the “uiro” sweet rice jelly, based in the central Japan city of Nagoya, suffered sales falls amid the epidemic.

Aiming to achieve its revival, the maker set its eyes on the growing popularity of the maritozzo cream-filled Italian bun in Japan.

Jiji Press
An executive of confectioner Aoyagi Souhonke shows a pair of Kerotozzo sweets.

After trial and error, Aoyagi Souhonke developed the “Kerotozzo” confectionery by putting cream into its mainstay “Kaeru Manju” frog-shaped cake filled with sweet bean paste.

In late July, the confectionery maker launched Kerotozzo at two of its outlets in Nagoya, targeting local customers. It took only an hour for the product to be sold out for consecutive days after its cute look caused a buzz among confectionery lovers.

The company initially planned to sell the new product for a limited time. Its popularity led the company to decide to add it to the list of standard products.

Toshitaka Goto, a board director at Aoyagi Souhonke, said, “We want to spread (Kerotozzo) as a confectionery regularly eaten in Nagoya.”

In January, Okashigoten, known for its “Ganso Beniimo Tart,” or purple sweet potato tart, and based in the village of Yomitan in the southernmost Japan prefecture of Okinawa, released a pouch-packed curry product using locally grown pork and purple sweet potatoes.

The product was developed after a lot of purple sweet potato paste was left unused. On the new product’s brisk sales, a company official said, “We believe it went down well with locals and people who have traveled to Okinawa.”

Ishiya Co., the maker of the “Shiroi Koibito” cookies, based in Sapporo, the capital of the northernmost Japan prefecture of Hokkaido, is scheduled to open its first overseas outlet in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, next month. Last month, an international exposition kicked off in Dubai, one of the world’s leading resort cities.

Sales of Shiroi Koibito at permanent stores are currently limited to those in Hokkaido. But Ishiya decided to promote the mainstay product in Dubai for local people and tourists from the United States, Europe and other parts of the world.

Tourist spots in Japan are gradually becoming busy again after the full lifting of the government’s COVID-19 state of emergency at the end of September. Domestic confectionery makers’ efforts to break their dependency on tourists, however, are likely to continue.

Izutsuyatsuhashihonpo Co., based in the western Japan city of Kyoto, has expanded sales channels of its “Yuko” soft rice cake with cinnamon flavor and other products to newly include a major mail order website.

“The impact of the coronavirus is expected to linger,” a public relations official of Izutsuyatsuhashihonpo said, suggesting that the company will continue its efforts to develop sales approaches fit for the postcoronavirus era.