Travel Notes from Japan | Market Observations from Grocery Retail
I was just in Japan for two weeks. I went to conduct some shopper research for a client and while there, had a vacation with my husband and our friends as well. I traveled all over Tokyo, took a bullet train over to Kyoto, drove a car to Mount Fuji and then back to Tokyo. I loved getting to know Japan (and will definitely be back,) had some amazing foodie experiences and learned a lot about Japan’s grocery retail landscape and Japanese shoppers.
Have a look at my photos below to see some of the many observations I made while working and traveling around in Japan.
Firstly, Japan makes a wide variety of specialty foods, some of which looks like good candidates to make it in America. More on that in this separate blog post.
Much like the American market, you’ll find a wide variety of retail outlets ranging from convenience stores (Lawson’s or Family Mart are everywhere,) conventional supermarket chains, independent specialty shops, specialty food chains, and high end food halls and shops inside luxury department stores.
In the cities people are making multiple trips per week to the grocery store. Most pop in by foot or on bicycle. Riding bicycles is huge here. You’ll see moms on their bikes carrying around two children – one in the front and one in the back, leaving very little space to tote around a lot of groceries.
Coffee culture is alive and well here. So glad about that as I’m no fun to be around unless I’m properly caffeinated in the morning.
Specialty bread is also a big deal here. Definitely ate the most expensive bread I’ve ever had and yes it was worth it! Seriously though, how pretty is this bread store? It looks like a jewelry shop. Not limited to just the specialty, expensive types of bread, regular bread is popular too. On several occasions I saw people wrapped around a city block in line for fresh bread at a bakery. With a specialty product like the one you see below, this is more for a gifting occasion instead of a regular purchase, so I’m told by shoppers.
Japanese love their beef. Everyone’s heard of Japan’s famous Wagyu and Kobe beef, both of which are delicious. I did some research on the meat category while there; look for another upcoming blog post soon just about the meat category in Japan.
Japanese shoppers enjoy a wide variety of meat cuts. Go to a butchery or open up a restaurant menu and you’ll see some cuts you may not be familiar with -- like beef tongue. Nice to see people willing to accept those “minority cuts of meat” so the entire carcass is used and nothing goes to waste.
Presentation is taken very seriously here. In the higher end specialty shops you’ll see beautiful merchandising. Staff inside grocery stores seem to take great pride in their work (that’s a nice change!) and obsess over the details ensuring products look perfect on the shelves. While checking in on some of my clients products there, I was very happy to find them in perfect order.
And if you’re like me, and are attracted to pretty, minimal packaging, you’ll find a lot of products that catch your eye.
I observed some organic products, but not a lot. Most of the shoppers I conducted shop-alongs with were not having organic or chemical-free top of mind. That said, what was top of mind is food cleanliness, safety and country of origin.
The USA, France and Australia have done a good job of promoting products from their countries here as the Japanese have an affinity for products coming from these countries.
I observed some unique flavors as ingredients in products like soft drinks, chocolates — basically anything had a version that was matcha green tea, wasabi, peach or cherry blossom/sakura flavor.
On the go eating is not common here as it’s considered impolite to eat while walking around or otherwise on the go. If you buy some takeaway food, it’s meant to be eaten near the vendor before going about your business. Despite that, supermarket shelves have a wide variety of interesting snack food.
Spotted some familiar products from back in the USA on supermarket shelves in Japan.
Does your brand want to launch into the Japanese market?
While in Japan, we took a deep dive into the grocery retail landscape and shopped-along with Japanese consumers, delivering valuable insights, feedback and recommendations for our client who we conducted research for.
Green Purse PR conducts shopper research all over the world and looks forward to doing more shopper research in Japan. Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about the Japanese market and consumers.
Or, are you from a Japanese company that wants to launch into the USA?
Good news — we’ll be back in Tokyo later this year and we’ll be bringing fresh insights from the American consumer market with us. I’m currently planning one of Green Purse PR’s Go To Market USA Workshops. These workshops are for exporters and focus on understanding the American consumer market to ensure export success. Each program is customized, but typically includes a half day or full day workshop covering topics such as: the American retail landscape, shopper insights, best practices in consumer marketing, competitive intelligence, resources and a brainstorming and Q&A session. Click here for more details on the Go To Market USA Workshops and contact us for details on the upcoming program happening later in 2019 in Tokyo.
- Lisa Mabe-Konstantopoulos, Founder, Green Purse PR