As soon as you walk into the offices of Campbell Japan Inc, you face an array of colorful soup cans, packets of Pepperidge Farm cookies, Tim Tams and V8 vegetable juice. But soup is what the company is famous for worldwide.
Excluding miso soup, Japan's soup market is worth about $700 million annually, of which canned soup accounts for only 5% of the total. Of the canned soup segment, Campbell's has the lion's share at about 80% with corn potage its biggest seller.
Overseeing the Japan operations is Soji Numano. Fluent in English, Numano has been with Campbell's since 1988, heading the Tokyo office since 2000. Before joining Campbell's, he worked in the marketing department of rival Heinz for 13 years.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Numano at the Campbell office in Hiroo to hear more about the business.
What product lines does Campbell Japan import?
Canned soup, and Pepperidge Farm cookies and Arnott's Tim Tams. We used to sell V8 vegetable juice for 20 years through a relationship with Suntory, but we terminated that contract two years ago. We still sell some V8 but only to Costco and some upscale stores.
How are overall sales?
Sales have grown steadily every year for the past decade. We got a significant boost in 2005 when we started selling to Costco, and in 2008, when we commenced direct business with Seiyu Walmart. Another reason we are doing well is that in a recession, people tend to think of soup as a convenient meal in itself. A can of soup is healthy and offers value for money.
How big is the soup market in Japan?
Excluding miso soup, the market is worth $700 million a year in Japan. The bulk of that is dry soups and is dominated by Japanese companies like Ajinomoto. Canned soups account for only 5%, of which we have the major share.
Are the soup products sold in Japan the same as in the U.S.?
Cans with English labels are the standard U.S. Product. Cans with Japanese labels have a formula developed especially for Japanese consumers after a lot of research. They tend to be less thick and not as salty. Sales of Japanese labels are increasing.
What is the best-selling flavor in Japan?
Corn potage has always been No. 1 here for all brands. That's one flavor you don't see in the U.S.
Are there any sectors where it is hard to get into?
It's almost impossible to get into convenience stores because they have shown no interest in canned soups. They don't carry many canned goods anyway. They prefer cup soups or powdered soups. Our challenge is to expand to regular supermarket chains.
Are there any differences in soup culture?
Some. For example, Japanese housewives don't use soup for cooking. What soup a housewife serves at dinner will depend on her main meal. If it's Japanese, she'll probably make miso soup. One of our strategies now is to promote recipe ideas to consumers. Some magazines have already featured our recipes and soups.
Do you interact with consumers at supermarkets?
We often do demos in supermarkets. It is a powerful marketing method. Many people have never tasted Campbell's soup and when they do try it, they like it.
How come you don't sell cold soups in summer?
We discontinued cold soups a while ago because our distributor has their own brand of cold soup. But we do supply vichysoisse to Costco.
Do you have nationwide distribution?
Yes, even in Okinawa. What's interesting about Okinawa is that it has a population of 1.3 million people, and we sell as much soup there as in the Japan mainland. Per capita consumption in Okinawa is just about the same as in the U.S.
Is quality control an issue in Japan?
Definitely. Things like torn labels and dented cans might not bother U.S. consumers, but in Japan, they have to be sent back. Often, replacing a can is not enough in Japan. People expect a written apology listing the reasons, cause, and so on. Other times, consumers will complain if they don't like the taste or the color doesn't appear right or the soup's viscosity is not consistent. I have to communicate these points to the manufacturing plant in California. Fortunately, though, we have never had to recall any soup products in the past 10 years.
Tell us about your team.
We have 16 staff. We focus on importing, selling to the distributor, marketing and customer service activities.
How often do you drink soup?
About twice a week. I myself like clam chowder, which is the second most popular flavor in Japan.
For more information, visit www.campbellsoup.co.jp© Japan Today