The Elegant Social Snack
Pocky has been a household name and a favorite chocolate confectionary for years in Asia, but how is it faring across the Pacific? Tokyo Journal's editorial team visited with President Shunsuke Nakai at Ezaki Glico USA headquarters to find out.
TJ: I understand you came to Glico three years ago?
NAKAI: Yes. I worked as regional manager in the U.S., Europe, India and Russia – so everywhere except for Asia with the exception of India. There are two teams: Asia and “others.” I was on the “others” team (laughs). People in Asia are well aware of Glico, but there is not much awareness in other countries, so we needed to focus on those countries. I was transferred from Japan to the U.S. almost three months ago.
TJ: How did you learn English?
NAKAI: I learned my English skills by watching “South Park” and “Family Guy” (laughs).
TJ: And you’ve traveled to Russia?
NAKAI: Yes, twice. Russia is the second biggest chocolate market [in the world]. But in terms of business, it is not easy. Logistic costs are high. I think Moscow is the most expensive place in the world. For example, a can of Pringles costs five dollars.
TJ: So what is your goal here in the U.S.?
NAKAI: To achieve $100 million dollars of annual sales of Pocky products. We are aiming for $17 million annual sales in 2020, and [ultimately] almost six times that. But the U.S. market is very difficult. Hershey’s has almost 71% of the chocolate market share, and Campbell’s has almost 74% of the biscuit market. It is very difficult to break into that.
TJ: How do you plan to enter such a difficult market?
NAKAI: Pocky is the number-one brand in the U.S.-Asian market. This is our strength, so we will focus on the Asian market for a few years and then expand.
TJ: Could you utilize the “Cool Japan” boom?
NAKAI: Yeah. I don’t know why but Pocky appears in a lot of animation. We can gain a lot of awareness amongst teenagers through anime.
TJ: How are Pocky sales going now?
NAKAI: Very good. Three times the previous year’s [sales]! 65% are in Asian markets. Others are on Amazon, Costco and Walmart’s Asian section.
TJ: But the Asian section sells soy sauce, etc., right?
NAKAI: Yeah, Pocky is next to the rice! If we got distribution at the candy section it might be attacked [by competitors] and discontinued in a year. The Asian section’s actually safe. By basing Pocky there, we can maintain distribution.
TJ: So what kind of products do you sell in the U.S.?
NAKAI: Chocolate, strawberry and green tea Pocky. We will launch the Japanese ice cream brand “Ice no mi” soon. It is difficult to comply with U.S. food regulations, so many give up on launching ice cream in the U.S., but we spent almost two years developing an ice cream to comply with regulations.
TJ: How do you research foreign markets?
NAKAI: Before I visit a country, I learn its market size, income level and trends. Then I visit and observe consumers’ behavior and teenagers’ trends. I visit stores; sometimes I visit consumers’ homes. The important thing is how Pocky enters consumers’ lifestyles, like friends eating and sharing it at school. I think it doesn’t look good for girls to eat Snickers in front of their boyfriends, you know? But Pocky looks very cute. That’s our strategy. We call it “emotional value.” Pocky’s slogan is, “Share happiness.” This means sharing with precious friends and family. Pocky is easy to share. Kit Kats are harder and a Snickers is impossible.
TJ: Do you have any Japanese business heroes?
NAKAI: Honda Soichiro, the founder of Honda, wanted to create the world’s number- one motorcycle and he was just crazy with that desire. I want to be like him and work purely for the objective. I want to contribute to U.S. and Mexican consumers and I hope to enhance their lifestyle through Pocky. Pocky costs just $1.50, so people can share Pocky while enjoying time chatting with friends.
TJ: And will that give you satisfaction in life?
NAKAI: Yeah. Actually I’m an only child, my hometown is in Hiroshima and my parents are getting old so this is my final responsibility. I think selling Pocky is my life’s work. tj