Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Industry & Trade | Asia-Pacific | Japan

Japan

MIKASA INDUSTRY: Cutting-edge caps that customers can count on


1 month ago

Daichi Hayashida, President & CEO of Mikasa Industry Co., Ltd.
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Daichi Hayashida

President & CEO of Mikasa Industry Co., Ltd.

A specialist in plastic caps, Mikasa embraces Japanese monozukuri to create high-quality products that also include bottles and other packaging materials. The century-old company is focused on global growth and a greener future.

What are some of the qualities and advantages of the Japanese ‘monozukuri’ production philosophy when it comes to packaging? Why is Japan able to innovate in the packaging sector?

There are several reasons why Japanese companies have innovated and become competitive in the global market. One reason is the innate Japanese "spirit of monozukuri", which we believe contributes significantly to this. This “spirit” is known simply as “monozukuri” in Japanese.

We at Mikasa are committed to the brand owner's position and strive to meet the specific demands of consumers. Because we are trying to respond carefully to each request, there are many variations in our products. On top of this, the need to maintain the quality of a wide variety of products makes both quality and production control more complex. The situation makes it difficult to pursue production efficiency in large batches and sell at lower prices. However, Mikasa's employees have a 'monozukuri' spirit, which means that they prioritize customer benefits and respond to customer requirements.

In addition, Mikasa's spirit of craftsmanship means that we constantly strive to perfect our products. Japanese clients are very demanding when it comes to quality. The failure of the product leads to major complaints about quality even with an incidence of 250ppm. Our quality control and product development capabilities have been forged and developed in the Japanese 'monozukuri spirit' of pursuing quality. Therefore, we believe that we can innovate in the global packaging market as well.

Also, Mikasa's existing customers include global companies. We are listening to the needs of consumers worldwide through our global clients. We keep trying to meet our customers’ precise demands from each aspect.

Mikasa has absorbed this as know-how by solving the various requirements of different foreign countries. And the know-how we have accumulated over the years has been successfully applied to the cap. We are confident that our expertise will enable us to play an active role in the global market as well.

 

There is a difference in the standards required by the Japanese domestic market compared to overseas markets when it comes to packaging, as foreign consumers don’t require standards as high as those in Japan. Have you noticed that incongruence as you expand your business overseas, and how do you balance that?

There are differences in habits and lifestyles between Japan and other countries. Therefore, we focus on different things. Japanese customers are precise in their demands in product usability and quality control. Specific usability items include opening and liquid exhaustion. As an example of where we have been convinced of our superiority, let me give you an example of a client company that delivers from a factory in Thailand.

Brand owners had initially purchased caps from both Mikasa and other competitors. While using caps from both companies, the client understood the advantages of Mikasa's products in terms of the ease of use of the hinge structure and pull-open mechanism, protection of contents and leakage prevention.

It is difficult to compete when the only requirement of the customer company is cost. However, if we can propose the exact function they want in their caps, our products will be recognized. Our caps look very simple, but they have high functionality.

We can also make suggestions on solutions to potential problems that have not been manifested. For example, when shipping over the equator, the inside of the container may become hot, and the cap may be blown off due to the increase in pressure inside the bottle.

Olive oil brand owners had given up on solving the phenomenon of caps blowing off, as there was no solution. However, we had the know-how to remedy this phenomenon. Mikasa manufactured a cap that can protect the sealed state even if transported across the equator. Our solutions to brand owners' problems have made them aware of our technology and high-performance caps. Since then, the cap has been used. Currently, more improved next-generation caps are being used.



More than one third of the Japanese population is over 65, which means a reduced labor force and less demand for products. How has this declining demographic affected your company and how are you reacting to this challenge?

In Japan, the population has also declined, making it a very elderly society. Regarding the workforce, it is certain that there will be a shortage of human resources in the near future. Japan has a mandatory retirement age system. We have created a re-employment system that allows employees past the mandatory retirement age to work for longer.

An experienced older workforce is valuable to our company. In order to promote the DX of skilled engineering techniques and to develop a working environment that allows people to work even in old age, we will advance automation and improvement of equipment that can compensate for the decline in physical performance.

Creating a working environment in which people can want to work for a long time leads to the development of the younger segment of the Human Resource.

Declining populations and decreasing numbers of households affect the reduction in demand. We are concerned about a decrease in the number of households rather than the population. Mikasa's products have many direct-to-consumer products and they are purchased from each household.

Since the decline in the number of households is slower than the decline in the population, the impact is currently small, but we are concerned about it as a future issue.

In addition, increasing the number of elderly households also affects the ease of use of the packages. In the usability field, in collaboration with public institutions, we continue to measure the size of the hands and measure the power of the hands, as well as research on easy-to-use caps for older adults.

We are also taking on the challenge of expanding overseas as a measure to shrink the domestic market. We first moved into Thailand and launched a sales and production base. Production and packaging of food-related products are active in Thailand. We started our activities in Thailand because we have the know-how in containers for food condiments, which we believe is a strength of our product.

In the future, we believe that the spirit of our "monozukuri" will contribute to the expansion of our business areas as well as to areas other than seasonings.

 

Coronavirus has been devastating for the world economy for the last year and a half. What was the impact of COVID on your company, and how have you adapted your business following the pandemic?

Because of the COVID, our business is stagnant. During the COVID situation, our market composition has changed significantly. The commercial-use sector for the restaurant industry declined considerably due to voluntary restraints on going out, but the residential sector is increasing.

The sales ratio has changed, but net sales are almost the same as before the Corona situation. However, due to the corona situation, logistics, etc. have been greatly complicated. Even in the case of the corona situation, food is necessary for people's lives.

Food containers have a social responsibility to maintain a stable food supply. Currently, we are making efforts to absorb price increases in raw materials, electricity, transportation fees, and other items upstream of the supply chain. However, price increases have coincided, and the situation has become fairly severe.

 

You have invented a cap which can show if it's been tampered with. Could you tell us more about that technology, and how you're ensuring tamper-proof seals?

The cap has a 'Tamper Evident' function that allows easy confirmation that it has been tampered with. In Japan, shrink-seals are often used on caps to prevent tampering, but it is difficult for older people to open thin shrink-seals. We also noted that the pull-open type cap, which is popular in Japan, is difficult to open for the elderly.

To solve this problem, Mikasa has created a new opening method in which the screw cap is rotated and also the parts that contribute to sealing can be opened at the same time. Of course, it ensures the same airtightness as the traditional pull-open type cap.

The company proposes to use a new type of tamper-resistant cap to distribute the product without the use of shrink seals. It is possible to reduce the amount of plastic used by not using the shrink seal.

The tamper-resistant cap won an international award (WORLDSTAR) in the WPO: World Packaging Organization’s Winner of the World Star packaging awards - Category Food. We are not staying put and are working with our customers to develop new tamper-resistant caps.

 

In recent times, the plastic and packaging sectors are being put under intense pressure from international governments due to their environmental impact. How is your firm reacting to this pressure, and what are some of the ways in which you are promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable packaging development?

In Japan, photographs of turtles with straws inserted into the nose have been released and have been impacting the Japanese public. As a global tide, we know that plastic is considered to be one of the factors that cause harm to the natural environment, but we examine the environmental impact of the product in the entire life cycle in a calm and measured fashion.

We are developing environmentally friendly products without forgetting the role of food packages. Food packaging also has a role in reducing food loss. We are also trying to reduce our use of petroleum-based plastics, but we are careful not to lose the protective performance of our food products through weight reduction.

For example, thinning the thickness of the container may shorten the storage time of the food and affect food loss. Although we are also starting to shift to environmentally friendly materials, we are carefully looking at switching to biomass plastics to avoid compromising the role of food packaging

We are also aware of the second goal of the SDGs - 'zero hunger' - and are in the process of moving towards it, examining the balance as a whole.

 

Between the governments who create the policies, the refineries who create the plastics, and the consumers who use the products, where does the responsibility lie for reducing the environmental damage caused by these plastics?

I think that is a very difficult problem. The Japanese government has created new legislation to circulate plastic resources. Companies are asked to take into account the design stage in the creation of environmentally friendly products.

We have developed a structure to facilitate removal of post-use caps from bottles. The caps are structured for easy sorting and disposal by consumers. If separated and recycled, plastic waste is reduced. The twelfth goal of the SDGs is 'Responsibility to Create, Responsibility to Use'.

We are committed to holding producers accountable to ensure sustainable patterns of consumption and production. Recycling small caps is a step toward a circular economy.

 

You’ve had a presence in Thailand since 2014 and you have ambitions to further expand in the ASEAN region. Looking forward, which countries will you be prioritizing, and are you most interested in joint ventures, mergers or going in alone when it comes to establishing your presence in a new country?

At present, we are working with local partners, especially the manufacturers of PET bottles and glass bottles, mainly in the Southeast Asia market. The shape of the bottle neck finish abroad is different from Japan.

Caps made in Japan are not available for sale without design changes. Furthermore, the commercial practices and standards of packaging in each country are different from those in Japan. We need to learn about the trends and traditions of the country.

By working with local companies, we can more effectively penetrate the market. For this reason, information sharing and cooperation with local partners are necessary.

Future options may include joint ventures and M&A, but we now focus on partnerships. In the future, the company hopes to expand sales to Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore, and then to more countries.

The next focus is on the American and European market. In fact, products produced in Southeast Asia are exported to the American and European market. We feel that now is the time for further market entry.

 

Let's say we come back to interview you again on the last day of your presidency: what would you like to tell us about your goals and dreams for the company by that time? What would you like to have achieved by then?

The domestic market is unlikely to expand in the future due to the shrinking population. However, overseas markets are expanding rapidly and we have great expectations that our caps are beginning to be penetrate those markets. My main goal is to enter foreign markets and make them more profitable than the Japanese market.

Companies that previously said they could not use Mikasa's products because they were too expensive are now using them because of their functionality and quality. The number of such success cases is increasing. To contribute to the food expectations of the international community, the factory in Thailand has received Thai Halal certification.

Our management philosophy is to “enrich people's lives”. We hope that our products will enrich people's lives by being used by people all over the world.


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