With today's difficult economic environment, a lot of Japanese consumers have been pinching pennies more than ever before (well, pinching yen anyway). As a result, major Japanese supermarket chains have been slashing prices, and this has put a lot of pressure on smaller operators who lack the same economies of scale and bargaining power with suppliers.
But a couple of smaller chains have stopped wringing their hands, and have been fighting back with a clever approach: subsidized price cuts.
Just in case you don't expect to experience any romance on your own this Valentine's Day in Japan, you can always drop by Tully's for a taste of this seasonal indulgence: Tully's Romance Strawberry Mocha.
In Japan, soft drink manufacturers often use on-pack omake ("freebies") to promote repeat sales. Not too long ago, canned coffee maker UCC tied up with All Nippon Airways to release a series of mini figurines that showcased the evolution of uniforms worn by the airline's flight attendants (click photo for larger view). Between 1955 and 2005, ANA changed its uniforms nine times, so UCC created nine figurines for consumers to collect.
For an example of an on-pack promo executed by Coca Cola Japan's Georgia canned coffee, check out this earlier post.
Just in case you're easily hooked on unusual Japanese products, or you're on a quest to test all of the world's unusual brews, you may want to plan a special trip to Konan City in Japan's Kochi Prefecture where one of the local micro breweries created Tosa Kuroshio Karyudo Beer to celebrate 10 years in business.
Tosa Kuroshio Karyudo is a low malt concoction brewed with rice flour and hops in an 8 to 2 ratio. Nothing so unusual there. What makes it unique is that it also contains dashi, the fish (bonito) stock that's critically important to making Japanese soups like miso shiru. No, I haven't had it—but I'm willing to bet it's a good accompaniment to sushi or sashimi.
If you can't make the trip to Shikoku, but do live in Japan, you can apparently order Tosa Kuroshio over the phone. The brewer, Tosa Kuroshio Bakshu, (tel. 0887-55-4111) is selling six-pack gift sets containing two bottles of Tosa KuroshioKaryudo and four bottles of the company's other beers—for a mere 2,937 yen (about $30).
Last month, McDonald's Japan closed its Omotesando shop without warning and a few weeks later, just as suddenly, this QUARTER POUNDER shop appeared. It's basically the old store, but they've removed most of the fixtures, furniture and wall coverings, closed the dining areas and painted the place black and red. And they've cut the menu down to just a few items. You can order Coke or Coke light, french fries, and either a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, or a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (which, if I recall from my training in English and math, more accurately should have been called a Half Pounder with Cheese, but I digress).
If you look closely, you'll see that nowhere on the signage or inside the shop do you see the "Golden Arches." That's because McDonald's never announced to the general public that the store—and the Quarter Pounder—are affiliated with the company (the last time McDonald's sold the Quarter Pounder in Japan was the late 1970's, so essentially it's brand new for most people). McDonald's Japan is keeping the QP's origins a mystery, perhaps hoping to create some kind of drama to generate pre-buzz before the sandwich is released through regular shops. Obliquely, they're running a consumer promotion in which Quarter Pounder shop customers receive a quiz card asking "which famous hamburger company is affiliated with the Quarter Pounder?" Those that bother to mail in correct answers have the chance to win something in a prize drawing.
Why on earth are they going this route? After all, McDonald's has quite a bit of accumulated positive brand equity in Japan, and they can certainly afford to do a national roll out using a real ad campaign. So why open just two specialty locations in Tokyo (there is one additional shop in nearby Shibuya, located, oddly, in a poorly traveled back alley) instead of opting for the time honored approach? The product has already tested successfully in regional Japanese markets.