executive impact

Bringing HoneyBaked Ham to Japan

18 Comments
By Chris Betros

Two years ago, Paul Kraft was working for Starbucks when a chance meeting with Nobumitsu Tamai, the CEO of boutique investment bank FinTech Global, gave him an idea for a product that might sell in Japan – HoneyBaked Ham.

Originally from Minnesota and having been in the food industry for 20 years, Kraft didn’t need much convincing, especially since his brother-in-law used to manage a store for the HoneyBaked Ham Company of Georgia. Kraft went to see the CEO on Valentine’s Day in 2012, and after a lot of negotiating, he signed a contract to be the exclusive licensee of the brand in Japan this past June.

It’s now all systems go and in the second week of October, HoneyBaked Ham will be sold in Japan – the company’s first foray outside the United States.

Kraft says there is a great demand in the Japanese market for premium American brands and added that the HoneyBaked Ham fills a market niche with its unique glazed and spiral-sliced on-the-bone hams. Each HoneyBaked Ham is hand-selected for leanness, smoked up to 24 hours, then spiral-sliced to the bone so each tender, juicy slice is easy to serve. They are then glazed here in Japan after arriving from the U.S.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Kraft at his office in Toranomon to sample some ham and hear more.

How did you convince the CEO of the HoneyBaked Ham Company to start exporting to Japan?

First, I contacted him by email. I introduced myself and said I was interested in bringing HoneyBaked Ham to Japan, and that we had financial backing. I went to see them on Valentine’s Day in 2012. It is a privately owned family company. Japan was not on their radar, but they did know that people in Asia, especially China, eat a lot of pork. Three of their executives visited Tokyo last November and they were blown away by the food culture, the opportunity, the packaging and department store basements.

When do you start sales?

We are aiming for the second week of October, beginning online and B2B business and eventually, we hope to have a retail presence. We will start taking reservations for Christmas, which I think will be especially important for the foreign community.

How are you positioning the brand?

As a premium ham -- bone in, with crème brulee-like glaze on top. We are targeting high-end hotels, Tokyo American Club, Roppongi Hills Club, and so on, so that they can see this beautiful half ham. We are also having talks with some high-end retailers, but the hotels are our first target because they have lots of events and parties.

What is their reaction?

They are extremely surprised because glazed bone-in hams are unlike anything currently available in Japan. We meet buyers and chefs at hotels and time and time again, we get a very positive reaction.

What has your market research shown you about ham consumption in Japan?

Japanese love ham and eat it more often and on more occasions than Americans. About 30% of all Japanese ham is consumed at breakfast. Japanese love ham on toast. I was amazed at that figure. Ham is also the No. 1 gift item during the “ochugen” and “oseibo” gift-giving seasons because of its flexibility. We did focus groups and when Japanese housewives have ham in their fridge, they view it as their “backup” ingredient or even their “helper.”

How much does a ham cost?

A 4-kilogram ham would be about 13,000 yen. It sounds expensive but for a party it is much less than other options and adds a very high-end atmosphere. It is a premium product and there is the cost of importing, transportation, as well as a tariff on ham that which is 8 1/2%. However, we will be able to offer smaller packages, such as a quarter size which becomes much more manageable for refrigerators in Japanese houses.

How are you getting the word out?

Right now, we are telling the foreign community that we are here, especially the U.S. military, as well as at the Tokyo American Club and the ACCJ (American Chamber of Commerce in Japan). We are active on Facebook. We are planning a promotion called the Honey-Baked Ham Happy Hour. We will go companies with ham, cheese and bread and have a happy hour casual get-together in their office. Details for a program with ABC Cooking Studio are being finalized

How are you going to educate Japanese shoppers?

Housewives don’t often see ham on the bone. They don’t even think of it as ham, but meat. So this product requires explanation and sampling. We need to teach them that you can freeze it, and use the bone to make soup. Once we have a store presence, we will sell 200-300 gram packages sliced off right in front of customers, like a carving station.

In the lead-up to the start of sales, what are you focusing on?

I am an early riser and am usually here by 7 or 7:30 a.m. I spend the morning on the infrastructure of the business. In the afternoons, I’m out meeting customers.

The most important thing as we begin sales is to fulfill the promises we have been making with our products. I have a Japanese food safety license, so I can glaze the hams myself. We will train others to do it, monitor quality and follow up with customers.

How much ham do you eat?

Probably about half a kilogram of ham a week. Sometimes my wife asks me how come we don’t have any left. How can we possibly be out of ham, she wonders. We have a ham fridge at home.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


18 Comments
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Bought a sprial cut, honey glazed, premium ham the other day at Costco. Didn't pay 13,000 yen either!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Yep, they run about 3,500-5,000 yen at Costco here--though the price has been going up with the weakening yen. Still, it's a great bargain compared to, and better tasting than the typical Japanese "gift" ham, which can run in the five figures for less than half the quantity. Makes for great sandwiches!!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Mass produced Marudai, Itoh hams and the like, my cat rejects. Not considered ham where I'm from. US forces would never pay that price at their exchanges. Costco is the best deal.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I've never had it, is it saltier than Japanese ham? Sometimes American ham is just too salty for me, which is why I like things like Sanda Nama Ham (although it's expensive).

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Good ham is hard to find here and the garbarge they pass off in the supermarkets is utter Cr@p, i usually search around to find better than what I see in most places, good ham is worth the extra. Costco or the meat guy have simillar spiral hams, this guys hams look alittle pricey in comparison though.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Honeybaked!!!! The mother of all hams! Great stuff! Sadly, don't wanna pay ¥13,000 for ham, but it does taste good and it is nice to bite into a think chunk of Ham. NOT the thin slices that Japan sells and don't get me started on bacon. Every time I watch on TV that opening sequence of "Dexter" when he bites into that thick chunk of ham makes my mouth water!

Japanese love ham and eat it more often and on more occasions than Americans. About 30% of all Japanese ham is consumed at breakfast. Japanese love ham on toast.

I'm not so sure about that. American's do like to eat ham and considering the variety of ham we have in the supermarkets for making sandwiches which Japan does NOT have.

I've never had it, is it saltier than Japanese ham?

Not that salty, at least not to my tastebuds, outside very sweet, so the salt and the sweetness give it a nice balance.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I agree with bass. Honey Baked Ham is sooo different from others. I do not know what it is, but it tastes better and not too salty. It goes very well with other dishes like Candy Yams, Green Bean Casserole, Mashed Potato, Cranberry Sauce, Potato Pie........I am ready any time!!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

When I lived in the US for 2 years with my Japanese wife, she went crazy over the honey-baked hams we got for holiday meals. She also loved roast turkey with yams, mashed patooties and stuffing. And the leftovers kept paying off for a week as sandwiches, soups, etc. I'm getting hungry just reading this thread! Not sure how the Costco one measures up, I'll give that a try for sure. But there are levels of yummy to honey-baked hams and I know from personal experience that the HoneyBaked Ham ones are hard to beat. Back home we always got that one on purpose, after trying others. It really is fantastically good.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Candy Yams, Green Bean Casserole, Mashed Potato, Cranberry Sauce, Potato Pie........I am ready any time!!

I agree. Now, I am getting hungry. My wife prefers Most US hams over Japanese, she just likes the richness and the succulent taste, but for those who don't know, there are various ham flavors. You can salty, reduced salt, honey or sweeter, peppercorn taste. Honeybake also makes a great honey smoked Turkey! Once you had that, you won't want to eat any other foul!

Upside: You get THE best tasting ham money can buy, highest quality.

Downside: VERY pricey, can turn off most people, which is why at least for Americans, it is usually a once a year holiday treat

https://ca.honeybaked.com/shoponline.asp

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Not that salty, at least not to my tastebuds, outside very sweet, so the salt and the sweetness give it a nice balance.

Thank you!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Once you had that, you won't want to eat any other foul!

You don't want to eat anything foul, ever. You may, however, wish to eat all sorts of fowl.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

US ham is nice. But the best I've ever had was Spanish... closely followed by Italian. Sometimes we'd bring a whole ham over from NZ when flying into Japan... Told some great storys at customs; always got through though. Only issue is it has to be frozen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I know it may not make a whit of difference to most folks reading this, but this Michigander is proud of the fact that "spiral-sliced Honey Baked Ham" was invented in Detroit, Michigan. Their first shop was on 5 Mile Road. Their very name is a trademark recognized all over the USA. It is simply the best game you can buy outside of the special hams of Spain.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

So how much honey do these 'HoneyBaked Hams" contain?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Mike, wow, I'm a Michigander and I didn't know that!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here is another idea. Please import roast turkey! I and other Japanese I know who studied in the US loved roast turkey, but you can't get it here in Japan. In Japan, during Thanksgiving and Christmas big department stores sell smoked turkey, but it is so smoked and you can hardly taste the turkey. Please!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

No thanks. I'll stick with my Virginia Smithfield ham...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

You don't want to eat anything foul, ever. You may, however, wish to eat all sorts of fowl.

You got me there. But driving, iPhone and Siri....good luck with that! :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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