executive impact

Wetzel’s Pretzels

By Chris Betros

American company Wetzel’s Pretzels, a leader in super-premium, hot and fresh pretzels, opened the company’s first Asia location, at the Ario Kameari Mall in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, in April. The location has quickly become Wetzel’s Pretzels’ highest-volume store in the world.

To launch the brand in Japan, the company partnered with master franchisee Takafumi Kawasaki, a veteran in the Japanese-based franchise sector.

Bill Phelps and Rick Wetzel launched Wetzel’s Pretzels in 1994. Still leading the company today, they are the only founders of a retail snack food chain that do so. Phelps says great flavor, value and products know no borders. He sees tremendous opportunity for growth in Asia.

How important is Japan in Wetzel’s Pretzels' global expansion plans?

Japan is absolutely critical to our global expansion plans. It’s one of the most sophisticated markets in the world, and the culture openly welcomes U.S. concepts. We need to be successful here.

Where else are you looking to open in Asia besides Japan?

We are already in India, and as we continue our goal of growing Wetzel’s internationally, we will be expanding fairly aggressively, looking into Malaysia and Singapore.

How has the first store in Japan performed so far?

We’re thrilled with the success of the first Wetzel’s Pretzels in Japan, located at the Ario Kameari Mall in Tokyo. It has exceeded all expectations and has put us on a fast track to expansion in the region. It is the highest volume mall store we have in the world.

What are your expansion plans for Japan?

By April of 2013, we will have 10 Wetzel’s Pretzels locations in Japan, and we anticipate upward of 15 stores by the end of 2013.

How did you research the market in Japan before deciding to open here?

We always believed Japan would be the best international market for Wetzel’s, as Japan has a strong presence of U.S. concepts performing well in the market. We also saw how the Japanese population embraced the products and brand in Southern California. Overall, we were very optimistic about going into the Japan market.

Are the products sold in Japan exactly the same as those sold in the U.S. or were some changes necessary to suit Japanese consumers’ tastes? For example, are they smaller?

In the United States, our pretzels are 6 ounces. To accommodate for regional food tastes, we’ve gone to a 4-ounce pretzel locally. The menu in Japan is the same as it is in the U.S., although we’re testing two new pretzel flavors here -- curry and ginger.

How often do you visit overseas markets?

I, along with our team, visit Asia every six months. Takafumi Kawasaki, our master franchisee, is local and has four people working at his headquarters. We also have approximately 30 team members working at the Wetzel’s Pretzels in the Ario Kameari Mall.

In choosing a master franchise developer for a region, what do you look for in a possible partner?

The first attribute we look for in a possible franchisee is a track record of success developing other franchise concepts. It’s not critical that a franchisee has experience in the food sector, but they need to have had success with other franchise concepts. This is something Kawasaki understands and he has been successful locally with other franchise concepts.

The master franchise developer also must understand the importance of having successful franchisees, and the critical importance of the locations of those stores. Lastly, they have to have the capital to make the investment.

What is your management style like? In what areas of the business are you hands-on and where do you delegate?

Wetzel’s is a very lean organization. At our corporate office we have five executives, three middle managers and a handful of clerical team members. We run a very tight ship.

Both Rick Wetzel (co-founder) and I are very involved in the day-to-day operation of Wetzel’s Pretzels. I believe it’s a competitive advantage to have the founders of a company still at the helm. It’s the company we’ve overseen since 1994 and we enjoy bringing Wetzel’s to fans in the United States, Japan and other locations.

How many pretzels do you eat a week?

I typically eat two pretzels a week. My favorites are the Jalapeno Pretzel and the Wetzel Cheese Dog.

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One pretzel can contain 400 calories... they are very tasty so if you are like me you'll want another one... that's 800 calories in one sitting... this kind of thing is making American's obese...

0 ( +3 / -3 )

American company Wetzel’s Pretzels, a leader in super-premium, hot and fresh pretzels, opened the company’s first Asia location, at the Ario Kameari Mall in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, in April. The location has quickly become Wetzel’s Pretzels’ highest-volume store in the world.

And will be for the next 2 months. Then people will find a new fad. If Wetzel's Pretzels still have a store here this time next year, I will be amazed.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Probie - I would say youll be amazed, simple product, doesnt need a lot of space, etc. I doubt the lines will last much longer (cant see waiting for a pretzel for more than 2 minutes myself but....) wont disappear like Cinnabon. Krispy Kreme is still around but the hub-bub has died down. I like warm pretzels with beer. A few German beer places have them around town - delicious with a cold, tall Weisbier. Hmm...

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hate pretzels... like eating salty cardboard.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

@ultradork - Yeah, but the Japanese don't seem to be all that interested in pretzels, only fads, like Cinnabon and KK, like you said.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Absolutely Love Pretzels but don't know about Wetzel's Pretzels ..more of a Hannover Man ...Where the H can I buy a Wetzel's Pretzel in Tokyo ?

Please get them up in Kaldi's Coffee Barn ASAP!

Don't make them too salty!

Best wishes to all,


1 ( +1 / -0 )

I never heard of them nor hot pretzels. Might pop by if I am that area and they are still running.

Snyders are good or I buy a Beer-Pretzel at the local Bakery.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow, 'super-premium' eh?

Not secondary, not even premium (from 'premiere', the first grade). So 'super-premium' must be what, a negative number?

When I grow up I want to be a master franchisee too. Sounds much more fun than being a train driver.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's more like a baked piece of bread shaped into the traditional pretzel shape. Quite tasty so you should give them a try, but wait for the lines to die down first. Wait! ...People are lining up! Quick get in line!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Huge in southern California. You will see people lined up to eat them on weekends and can be found in most southern California's malls. So I imagine we will start seeing more of Wetzle's in these type of locations as they don't require a lot of space and don't usually have any place to sit.

Right now Wetzle's is trying to compete with Auntie Anne's Pretzels here in Japan as Auntie Anne's are starting to appear all around Tokyo. Auntie Anne's makes a better tasting Cinnamon pretzel than Wetzle's though. Wetzle's Cinnamon Pretzel is smothered in cinnamon and sugar and you can't really taste the pretzel. When you bite into it you get a mouthful of cinnamon and sugar and can't taste the pretzel. It is ok, but too sweet for Japan and if i were them I would consider doing something about it.

As for the comment made about Cinnabon. This company did something to their cinnabons a few years back because they have no taste when comparing the taste a say 5 years ago. I used to love going there and couldn't stop eating them, but now I don't really even bother.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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