Baskin Robbins Japan, which is known by Japanese consumers as "31" (in reference to the brand's offering of 31 flavors), is planning to open 101 new locations in Japan in 2009, bringing their shop total here to over 1,000. The company is even planning a new format that's twice as big as the average existing store, with the first of these slated for the new Ami Premium Outlet Mall that's opening in Ibaraki this summer.
Given the state of world and domestic economies, you might be forgiven for assuming that expansion news like this means that B.R.'s ice cream biz is screaming forward while the overall Japanese market screams in pain.
In reality the company may be, in a sense, running in place.
According to a Nikkei article I read last week, B.R.'s sales were up 5% in 2008, but a good deal of this had to do with price hikes and marginal contributions from last year's net increase of 40+ new locations. Actual footfall dropped by 8% at existing stores, and average customer spend went down by 9%.
In recent years B.R. has in part secured new locations in Japan relatively easily thanks to the appearance of so many new shopping centers. But due to revived restrictions on allowable square footage in new commercial facilities, shopping center construction has been falling off quickly.
As a result, Japanese consumers may find more Baskin Robbins' openings in locations abandonded by failed convenience stores and other businesses. And there will be no shortage of those this year.
* The official name is B-R 31 Ice Cream Co. Ltd., which is a JASDAQ listed company (2268)