Wednesday, Aug 16, 2017
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Healthy – Balanced – Better


2 weeks ago

Yoshisato Kikuchi, President of Tiger Corporation
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Yoshisato Kikuchi

President of Tiger Corporation

Tiger Corporation is a Japanese manufacturer of rice cookers, stainless steel beverage bottles, bento lunch kits, and home appliances, which has been successful both at home and abroad as a result of its ability to identify individual market needs in each country. Yoshisato Kikuchi, the company’s president, talks about the company’s strategy for greater expansion.

The household kitchen appliances segment revenue is forecast to reach as much as $150 billion by 2023, with North America being the largest consumer market.  What is your personal overview of the key drivers that are shaping the future of the industry?

I think that GDP growth is one of the reasons for the market expansion in the United States. While Japan’s GDP has remained flat for a long time, the United States’ GDP continues to grow and remains the first in the world. America is a real leader in the world economy, which constantly innovates in marketing fields and so on. In this sense, it is important to be able to innovate.

 

Japan is facing the challenge of an ageing and shrinking population. What are the challenges for Tiger Corp arising from this trend?

One of Japan’s societal problems, which we call “shoshi-koreka” meaning “fewer children, and aging population”, will continue to be apparent. We, as a Japanese manufacturer, have to grow while taking these problems into account. Our two solutions in order to achieve our goals are the following: firstly, in the domestic market, we have created new types of products to better serve this aging population. Secondly, we plan to expand our influence and sales overseas. The American market, of course, is important along with the Asian market which has a high affinity with Japan in terms of the food culture.

 

Is Tiger Corporation adapting its existing products for the aging population?

We cannot provide any examples for proprietary reasons, but we are considering these options at the moment.



“Chuken kigyo” are Japan’s hidden champions, namely medium-sized companies that have been able to conquer large shares of the global market in their respective sectors of activity through a focus on R&D. Could you briefly describe to our American audience the genesis and evolution of Tiger Corporation?

Tiger Corporation was established in 1923. We first manufactured and sold glass thermos bottles. We then used the same glass to manufacture glass containers in order to keep rice warm. Afterwards, we developed electric glass jars to keep rice warm electronically. Thanks to technological advances, we were able to manufacture many electronic kitchen appliances such as rice cookers, kettles, toasters and blenders. We are now 94 years old, and our main products have always been electrical equipment related to the kitchen and to dining. We have attempted to work with various other products in the past without success, which is one of the main reasons why we stick to what we do best. This is namely electronic products that cook or heat food, while diversifying into other cooking equipment such as the pizza oven.

Our company began with the vacuum bottle and has grown into electrical appliances, but I would also like to mention our Vacuum Electric Water Heater which uses both electrical and non-electrical technology. By heating water with electricity and then keeping it warm with our vacuum insulation, we are able to combine new with traditional technology to create these products.

We plan to work on the health field to make innovative products for each market. We can contribute to society as a company because health has always been one of our major concerns, whether that be for the domestic or the international market. For example, we have already implemented healthy programs on our rice cookers which fit each country's culture, for example including in Japan and oatmeal in the US. We feel that there is a high demand for this to those who are health conscious and eat a healthy diet.

As Japanese, we love and respect our culture, but it is necessary for us to adapt to the local culture and also adjust our products to the local market. For example, our rice cookers would need to cook unprocessed rice and quinoa, which is very popular in the U.S.

Tiger Corporation has grown into a manufacturer of electronic goods, but we would also like to stress the importance of our more traditional items, such as the stainless steel bottles. Our bottles are finely processed by our proprietary technology and are light and easy to carry. They are more ecologically friendly compared to using heavy and sturdy materials that other companies use. The inner surface of the bottles are uniquely processed to polish the surface with an electropolishing process we call the "super clean process" to make it smoother and easier to clean.

 

What impact can this have on the environment?

By reusing their bottles for beverages instead of throwing away a plastic bottle or paper cup, our consumers are helping the environment. In addition, our stainless steel food storage containers for hot soup or other on-the-go foods have the same effect.

 

What is Tiger Corp’s plan to leverage on the IoT megatrend?

There are two clear advantages for us on this aspect. Firstly, we are utilizing this technology as much as we can in our factories to improve productivity and lower employment costs. Secondly, we are implementing IT technology in our products to be able to deliver new services to our clients.

 

Are there any examples of your products that have already been able to implement this kind of technology?

In our factory, we use technology in various ways. For example, we have implemented sensors that enhance the performances of our machinery. As far as our products, we cannot provide any examples for proprietary reasons, but we believe that artificial intelligence and IoT will become a positive factor in the networked society.

 

As the Japanese population ages, Japan’s companies can no longer afford to rely only on the domestic market. Concerning Tiger Corporation, what is the country that offers the biggest prospect of growth?

Currently, the American market represents a quarter of our overseas sales and is one of the most important foreign markets that we are dealing with. However, as our main activity being the distribution of different types of rice cookers, it is crucial that we grow and expand in countries that have the same culinary culture as ours, namely Asian countries. Therefore, the US and Asian markets are without a doubt the future of Tiger Corporation.

 

Given that the West Coast of the US has a huge Asian population, and Tiger Corporation already has a footprint there, are you targeting the Asian community living in the US?

Absolutely, they are undoubtedly our main market at the moment in the US. However, considering our future expansion, it is very important for us to target those that reside in America as a whole, rather than focusing only on the Asian community. Currently, the American population is very health conscious and we are focusing on this field. Our marketing slogan in the US is “Healthy, Balanced, Better.” In addition, the US market is a place where we can obtain the world's most advanced marketing information such as through e-commerce. It is important to develop marketing programs here as it can be reflected in other areas as well.

 

How do you customize your products to match the market requirements in your target markets? Are there any differences between the products you sell in the Asian markets and in the American market?

Absolutely. In each country the product looks exactly the same, but the machinery operating inside is completely different. For our rice cookers as an example, the program inside is completely different as the rice used is different in every country.  I was using the rice cookers as an example, however any machine we make uses different electrical components to better match the local market.

 

Even though you have a wide range of products, rice cookers remain your focus. Is this correct?

For the time being, in the foreign market it is the rice cookers and the stainless steel bottles.

 

Why should Americans pick Tiger for stainless steel bottles as opposed to other well-established competitors like Stanley or Zojirushi?

Our stainless steel products use our proprietary process in which we call "super clean process" on the insides of the bottles. While some of our competitors apply chemical coatings, our company polishes with electropolishing which makes the inside smooth and easy to clean, free of odours and harder to stain. By using this process instead of adding chemicals, we achieve the ease of care and a healthier product. It also leads to a lighter weight product.

 

How important is brand recognition for the future of Tiger Corporation growth, and how would you define what Tiger Corporation stands for in terms of its brand name?

Our vision is to “spread joyous harmony throughout the world” and we are always discussing the best ways to achieve this goal. Our position is dealing with the world market, rather than just thinking about Japan. Making money isn’t our priority, but rather it is to spread happy smiles throughout, which is what we do best. This is how we will gain brand recognition. We believe that to continue to create new everyday essentials for the dining experience with ideas that produce warmth will remain the philosophy that guides us.

Profit is not the most important thing. It is said that Japanese manufacturers have concentrated too much on the technical side in the past. On the other hand, we feel it is important to understand its essence. Thus, we would like to convey our concepts of manufacturing, high quality, commitments and hospitality to overseas.


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