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Helping clients to unlock the endless potential of castor oil

Interview - November 26, 2020

The endless potential of castor oil has long been recognized by Itoh Oil Chemicals Company, which has been in the business of manufacturing high-quality castor oil-based products and derivatives since 1946 and boasts Japan’s largest castor oil refinery. We sit down with president Takuya Katayama to learn more about how castor oil is replacing the use of fossil-fuel based derivatives in a wide range of applications, from bio-based plastics, lubricants and specialty rubber, to paints and cosmetic products, and why Itoh is the ideal partner for companies looking for the highest-quality castor oil solutions. 


The global Castor Oil industry is expected to grow by 3.5% by 2024 due to an increase in demand from the cosmetics industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and many more. The areas that are driving this growth are China, India, North America, and Europe. Would you please tell us how Itoh Oil plans to take advantage of this growth and how will you be able to meet the demand of your customers overseas?

The numbers that you mentioned and the trend in the industry agree with our outlooks and make this a very promising time. We believe this growth is being driven by people’s growing awareness of the magical properties of this product: it is biodegradable, natural, and ecologically friendly. These traits are dragging a lot of industries into the production and use of castor oil. This is very promising for us because we are already closely aligned with this product.

This tendency is not something new, we have been seeing this trend for the past several years. We are seeing that there has been a shift away from crude oil towards chemical derivatives coming from castor oil. Our company imports crude castor oil from India and then domestically refines that oil in order to create a lot of functional and necessary products used in various fields. The industries that we have been looking at are in the cosmetic and medical fields with the polyurethane industry being also promising.


If any new customer is in the market for a supplier in castor oil products, what would be your competitive advantage so that the customer chooses your products over a competitor’s?

Our company has been refining castor oil and developing products derived from castor oil since 1946. This has allowed us to refine our techniques and production methods over time. This has translated into customer satisfaction for our products and most importantly customer loyalty for our products. Our customer satisfaction we believe is our greatest competitive advantage.

Furthermore, our geographical location, being so close to the growing Asia market is one of our competitive advantages when it comes to reducing the transportation costs of delivering our products into these markets.

Lastly, we believe that the castor oil itself brings us an advantage because of the multitude of applications that the crude form can be derived from. Its vast potential in a variety of industries not only helps us branch into different industries but also diversifies our portfolio, thus sheltering us from risk.


You mentioned that your oil can be used in a variety of industries. Today you are currently in the pharmaceutical industry, cosmetic, automotive, and many more. Is there a particular industry that you would like to tackle in the future?

We would like to penetrate the polyurethane industry. We are already present in this industry, but we would like to increase our foothold within the industry. We are also very interested in the adhesives and coatings industries.


How do you plan to enhance your presence in these industries?

It is always important in any industry to try to engage with our customers. We drive our customer engagement through hearings that promote the benefits of castor oil. These hearings are essential in order to receive customer feedback and help bring awareness to the benefits of castor oil.

Our sales activity mainly goes through B2B channels because we do not produce a final product but rather refine the castor oil or produce its derivatives and then sell those to a business that ultimately produces the final product. It is especially important for us to know what the final product will be and then work with the customer to co-develop the castor oil product that would best meet the needs of the customer’s final product.


Given that you mainly operate on a B2B basis, how are you able to reach customers overseas?

We use two ways to enhance our sales channels. First, in Japan, we have built a strong position with trained salespeople who are versed in castor products. In foreign markets, especially when we speak about the Chinese market, we must cooperate with distribution agents that contact local distributors and introduce our castor oil products to the market.


Would you please explain to us what role that co-creation plays for your company? Are you constantly looking for partners in terms of co-creation?

The castor oil industry in Japan is mature however we must keep being the pioneer in this business with expanding the application field. The emerging countries in Southeast Asia and China are expected to grow economically in the future and are expected to start demanding more castor oil products or the castor oil itself. We are in a good geographical position to take advantage of this growth with shipping times only being three days to China by sea. In addition to that, we can provide the high-performance products and the best solutions by forming the alliance with partners and our highly-technical knowledge.


Are you looking to go into these countries by yourself or are you looking for partners to share in the risk?

In order to introduce these products, we look towards expositions and conventions and share our company brand and products through these methods. We are a medium-sized company and we must take everything step by step because of our lack of human capital. Unfortunately, we cannot just storm the world all in one go. If we cannot find any partners, we focus on locating a trusted distributor so that they can act on our behalf in any country. They bring local knowledge, and we will bring the technological know-how.


You became the president of this company in June. First of all, congratulations. But with assuming the presidency of the company you must have some aspirations. Let us say we come back and interview you in two years. What are some of the aspirations that you would like to have accomplished by the time we interview you again?

Thank you! My short-term target is to make ITOH OIL CHEMICALS a much more agile and flexible company for seizing opportunities which is coming along with changes of global economy and the business environment. in 5 years, my goal is to expand the business area within mainland China so that we can set a stronger foothold there. Our sales performance there is looking promising. We also look to move past China as well and expand into more and more countries in Southeast Asia. Castor oil has more potential power in reducing the environment cost and improving the functionality of customer’s products. Making the World know that with our products is my most important job.