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Zwilling J.A. Henckels Japan Ltd

By Chris Betros

If you’re serious about your cooking and you take pride in your kitchenware, the chances are high that there are some products from Zwilling J.A. Henckels in your kitchen.

The German company, which is especially known for its high-end knives, has a 281-year history. Having opened its first office in Osaka in 1973, Zwilling is now well known among chefs, housewives and cooking enthusiasts.

Heading the operations in Japan is American Andrew Hankinson. Born in Seattle, Hankinson has been in Japan for about 22 years. He started his career as a buyer in menswear for Tobu department store, and most recently was president for 10 years at an office products company. He took over Zwilling J.A. Henckels Japan in January of this year.

Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Hankinson at his office in Shibuya to hear more.

What are the various brands you are selling in Japan?

We have several brands: Zwilling, Henckels, Staub, Miyabi, Demeyere and Tweezerman. However, we are most know in Japan for our premium knifes and also increasingly for our Staub cast iron brand. Zwilling is a German company but it’s interesting to know that a majority of the Zwilling knives that are sold in Japan are actually made in Japan, not Germany. We have a factory in Seki, Gifu Prefecture, where we manufacture Zwilling branded knives. Zwilling knives are available at all major department stores, specialty stores and at our Zwilling outlet stores.

Then we have our Henckels branded knifes – we sell them through home centers and GMS such as Aeon, Ito Yokado, etc. Henckels knives are for somebody who likes the brand, appreciates quality but who is a bit price conscious.

Besides knives, we have Zwilling stainless steel cookware, gadgets for the kitchen and beauty tools. It seems everyone has Zwilling nail clippers or scissors.

Staub, a line of cast iron and ceramic cookware is from France; we bought the company in 2008. And last, we have the world’s best stainless steel cookware brand named Demeyere, which is from Belgium. We are just launching it through Isetan.

How well known are the products in Japan?

Our products are very well known. However, most Japanese recognize our twins logo and assume it’s the Henckels logo. But the twins logo is actually the Zwilling logo. Thus, I often have to correct them or explain the difference. Whenever I mention I work for Zwilling, most Japanese usually say: “Oh, I have one of your knives or clippers, or scissors.”

Staub cookware has been very successful in the professional channels - 80% of restaurants, hotels already use Staub cast iron for cooking. That professional acceptance has started to reach regular consumers and the popularity is really increasing. In May this year, the Nikkei gave us the No. 1 ranking for cookware in Japan.

How do you market the various brands?

Last year, we did some satellite TV advertising basically to get the brand awareness out there. Our aim is build “Top of mind awareness,” so that when you think of a kitchen knife, we want you to immediately think of Zwilling. We also sponsored a TV program related to food preparation.

I’m a big supporter of social media. We have a Facebook page for both Staub and Zwilling with over 15,000 likes. Word of mouth is huge for us, especially with Staub. We have a lot of bloggers, chefs, and "ryorika" who promote us on their websites or through their culinary-related events.

Do you hold events?

Yes, we hold a lot of cooking events and demonstrations. The demonstrations are important to explain the benefits of our products, with knives people can experience the difference a sharp knife makes, can feel the grip and balance of the knives. We do the events in stores and at our outlets. We do tie-ups with power bloggers and we sponsor chef Mario Frittoli’s cooking lessons.

As part of our “Top of Mind” awareness slogan, Zwilling is very active in promoting knife after-sales service. We offer knife sharpening classes at our Pro Knife Center in Kappabashi, and we aired a series of knife-cutting techniques on a TV show called “Sharp & Delicious.” We are also very active in promoting our sharpening stones and their use through our literature and website.

Where are your products sold?

We have 10 outlet stores, and plan to have 12 by the end of the year. We do direct business with Isetan and Mitsukoshi and all the other major department stores throughout Japan. Since we have a good a sales track record, getting dedicated space in department stores is not as difficult as it might be for other foreign brands. Our challenge is to make sure we have enough events and campaigns to keep the momentum going. With knives especially, you really need a salesperson to explain the benefits of a superior knife in order to sell. We train department store staff and we have our own staff in some stores.

What is your best-selling brand?

Definitely our Zwilling brand. Our sales are doing very well and we attribute that to our tagline, “Passion for the best.” The Twin Fin is our best-selling knife. It is light, hygienic, uses special-formula steel and offers great value for money.

Every year, we develop a couple of brand-new knife series based on results of market research. For example, housewives wanted a lightweight all stainless steel knife that was dishwasher safe and well-balanced, so we developed the Zwilling Sense series for this year.

Did last year’s March 11 disaster affect your business?

Like everyone else, there was a downturn in sales, but we saw a trend toward home cooking and home parties. People are enjoying home life more … and when they are cooking at home, they want quality. Our knives have a lifetime guarantee; they are like an investment. Consumers are tending to trade up for quality items and these factors have helped us recover quickly from the March disaster.

Where do you see the biggest growth potential?

Two areas: Market size wise, the biggest growth opportunity for us is in stainless steel cookware. The other area is Staub cast iron cookware; we are gaining a lot of market share from our competitors. Quality never goes out of style and with Staub, consumers are discovering that functional, quality cookware is a great investment over fashion cookware.

Can we buy your products online?

Yes, you can order from our online store at zwilling.jp or Amazon.

Do you visit department stores often?

Yes, I do. I stop by wherever I know our products are being sold. It’s also important to see what the competition is doing in the same space. I visit our outlet stores almost every week as well. I also often drop by unannounced on the weekends to our shops to support our staff and give advice on operations.

What is a typical day for you?

I get here about 8:30. In the mornings, I try to take care of things in the office and in the afternoons, visit the stores or meet customers and partners. I am very hands on at the point of sales. We have a great sales team, so I can delegate a lot to them.

Are you at home in the kitchen?

I love cooking. And using quality tools makes it even more enjoyable. At home, I have five different knives. If I’m cutting a vegetable, I’ll use one knife. If I am cutting a fillet, I’ll use another one. I have four Staub products. What I am doing now is a dream job. Even when I go to a restaurant, I try to see what knives the chefs are using. Even though I am relatively new to this job, I might lack some experience in our industry, but nobody can question my passion.

© Japan Today

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Great cutlery.

Do you give lessons on how to sharpen knives? Knives are a macho think like being able to talk about wine. Once a guy can be an "expert" about sharpening stones, angles, and different kinds of materials and blades, you can't get him to stop. He will have a conversation with the sushi chef to impress everyone around. You will have a lifetime supporter and very vocal spokesman (and ad hoc salesman).

With regards, Sid

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A couple of years ago I was on a business trip to Germany. I decided that I would buy some gifts for the family. For my wife she always wanted some good cooking knives,so I dropped by the Zwilling J.A. Henckels shop in Muchen, to see what kind of a selection the had. The sales person was very nice and asked about my wife's style of cooking. I told the sales person that she cooked basic Japanese style, with a little American style cooking on the side. That sales person sold me me a set of knives that he said being made by Zwilling J.A. Henckels, she should be able to use for many years of good cooking... Well, the knives that I gave her have all broken and the rivets in the handles are coming apart. I think the best thing I could have done is not bought them in the first place! My wife is a small sized Japanese woman and I thought that the knives would out last her, after all being Zwilling J.A. Henckels with a ? reputation and all. I contacted that shop and they told me to contact the main office about my problem with the knives...To my surprise they told in not so many words, " That they couldn't help me with my problem, about the knives". I was shocked that they were so frank about their answer. I asked them where did they get such a reputation with business practices like that? So in the end they said basically,Tough Luck! I WILL NEVER IN MY LIFETIME, RECOMMEND ANY " Zwilling J.A. Henckels" PRODUCT TO ANYONE! I think their business practices are very substandard. Many people say " You get what you pay for!", but in this case it is more like " You don't get anywhere near what you pay for!" Thanks, but no thank! Jim

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Dear Jim, thanks for your frank comments, I am very surprised and sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience with our products and after- service. As a company with a 281 year history and excellent reputation, I can confidently say that this is not a typical experience users of Zwilling products encounter.  In fact, it's the first overly negative comments I've ever heard. Nonetheless, if you care to take this offline, I would personally be happy to address your issues and see how we can make this right. Please feel free to contact me directly at my Tokyo office early next week. Best regards and happy cooking.  Andrew

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Perhaps one of the least "known" products in their lines is the Demeyere cookware. I have several pieces and they completely put AllClad to shame. jccampb

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I and my crazy, cooking-loving extended family have had a love affair with these products for decades. Most recently I'm using a mini oval cocotte on the BBQ grill--for things where I'd previously used foil wraps, for small or chopped veggies, or things where you'd use a skillet on the home burner. If you leave the lid off and close the BBQ cover, you get that wonderful smoke grill flavor. The mini cocotte holds and distributes the heat amazingly well, evening out the hot and dark spots on the side of any grill. Last weekend it was hash browns with garlic, onion, crackled bacon bits and a bit of scrambled egg thrown in. Yum! There is an outlet here in Kurashiki and we love going, even if we don't buy anything. I would compare the retail feel to that of Apple stores...an inviting space and friendly, zero-pressure staff. The only tough job Mr. Hankinson may have is clearing up the brand confusion between Zwilling and Henckel. It's a basic branding problem: the two Teutonic names bind to the same neurons and new customers have to be taught a difference they may not remember...it will never happen but how about renaming Henckel as something else.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Mr. Hankinson: sp2265 seems to be playing a very bad prank. Is he trying to get a free set of knives? After you have a chance to evaluate the alleged faulty knives, kindly post here or on your website as to what is going on. It is very hard for me to imagine that the complaint is real and not a dig by a competitor.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do like the balance on Zwilling knives. Japanese knives, particularly the cleavers, tend to be weighted toward the tip. It might be because they make the handles light for women users. This is even truer of Japanese frying pans. My T-Fal is better balanced than any Japanese pans I've used. Saving weight by making a short, light handle is a false economy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@kurumazaka - You piqued my curiosity about the Staub cookware, so off I went Amazoning. A question about measurements - there seems to be a difference of a couple cm between the round ones - does that include the handles? Also, the oval cocottes are listed as being 23cm - is that in length? What is the liter capacity? The site gives precious little practical information...


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Well, there you go, prof that these promo articles do work - I ordered a Staub Cocotte last night, and it's already in the post. I suppose I'd best dust off the cookery books now... Sadly, the only accompanying book readily available was in Japanese. I hope this thing is easy to use!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Erratum: proof

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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