To say that the Japanese people have a special affinity to Kit Kat would be a total understatement.
Home to the best varieties of Kit Kat on the planet, Japan is the only place where one can find unique flavors ranging from baked goods (Cinnamon Cookie, Strawberry Cheesecake) to beverages (Matcha-Green Tea, Hojicha Roasted Tea), and fruits (Shinshu Apple, Banana) and vegetables ( Purple Sweet Potato, Hot Japanese Chili).
While popular the world over, the chocolatey wafer from Nestlé is especially adored in Japan, where it has become one of its top-selling chocolate brands since it was introduced in the country in 1973. Even when sales for the past few years have been declining in the U.K., where the brand originally hails, the Japanese market has seen only steady growth since 2011, according to Telegraph.
So what did Kit Kat do to make it such a phenomenon in a market notoriously known to be difficult to break into?
As it turned out, a huge part of Kit Kat’s success story in Japan is due to one fortunate coincidence: Kit Kat sounds similar to the Japanese phrase kitto katsu, which means: “you will surely win”.
Being a common phrase said to students sitting exams, it was an instant ideal marketing opportunity which the company immediately tapped soon after they noticed parents were giving Kit Kats to their children, and friends to each other to express support, usually with hand-written messages. The practice eventually extended beyond exams.
Banking on the instant catchphrase’s success, Nestlé even collaborated with Japan Post to launch the postable Kit Kat. The campaign was a massive hit, resulting in an annual tradition that had people sending Kit Kats to almost half of the country’s 600,000 annual exam-taking students for good luck.
It was just the start of numerous other innovations that would result in the Japanese Kit Kat being a totally unique brand that the rest of the world recognizes.
“We had to differentiate the brand from the start when we realized that the global slogan, “Have a break, have a Kit Kat”, does not have the same meaning to the Japanese,” Nestlé Japan marketing manager Ryoji Maki was quoted as saying.
As the popularity of the chocolate wafer grew, the local market began demanding variety and the local marketing team in Kobe responded accordingly. Maki told CNN that offering just dark or milk chocolate variations won’t cut it in a market where about 2,000 new confectionery products are released each year.
Since Japan is also known for its affinity for the unique and novel stuff, Kit Kat made sure the majority of its local flavors are limited edition specialties.
This is why there have been over 300 different Kit Kat flavors released to date. He noted that ingredients are sourced from regions across the country. These regional flavors are often produced and sold to coincide with food seasons in limited edition boxes. The regional nature of each original variety made Kit Kat even more giftable to colleagues, friends, and family.
Aside from the flavors, Kit Kat made sure the packaging was adapted to the Japanese culture of gift-giving.
In Japan, ordinary Kit Kats found in grocery stores are like the seasonal specialty varieties found elsewhere during holidays (like Halloween), which often comes in a large packaging filled with smaller, individually wrapped bars. They even made Kit Kats found in airports and train stations packaged in a large multi-box gift packaging, which made them perfect for sharing with friends and family back home.
As if the Japanese aren’t spoiled enough, they even got their gourmet version of Kit Kat -the Kit Kat Chocolatory in 2014. For these special Kit Kats, veteran pastry chef Yasumasa Takagi concocted multiple new flavor creations using locally-sourced ingredients. Only available at select Chocolatory shops found across Japan, these high-end luxury chocolates are made with authentic couverture.
Feature image via Instagram/incindysshoes