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Peacock’s “PORTA-BOTTLE” brings customization and fun to environmental protection

Interview - July 7, 2023

Making use of generations of manufacturing expertise, Peacock continues to supply consumer products of unmatched quality.

CHIKA YAMANAKA, PRESIDENT OF THE PEACOCK THERMOS INDUSTRY CO., LTD.
CHIKA YAMANAKA | PRESIDENT OF THE PEACOCK VACUUM BOTTLE CO., LTD.

Over the past 25-30 years, Japan has seen the rise of regional manufacturing competitors who have replicated Japanese monozukuri processes, but done so at a cheaper labor cost, pushing Japan out of certain mass consumer markets such as consumer electronics, but Japan is still a leader when it comes to other high-quality B2C consumer products. How have Japanese firms been able to maintain this leadership despite stiff price competition?

The reason Japanese firms have maintained their leadership is because of the foundation of the national character and I personally truly believe in this notion. It explains in many ways why Japanese people are so devoted and try their best in everything they do. The ways of making things in Japan are based on the technological know-how and achievements that Japanese companies have accumulated over the many years of their existence. In addition, there is a lot of careful consideration from Japanese firms as to what the best possible products could be to serve the needs of customers and end users. This consideration for end users relays the true spirit of Japanese manufacturing companies and obviously results in high-quality products, thus winning the market despite the price.

The idea is the first step to producing anything, and that comes from the needs and the usage at the end. Profitability is not the sole driving point for many Japanese companies, rather winning the customer’s trust and winning the market by introducing the best product and the best quality possible. Basically, a lot of thought and a lot of heart is given to the production sites here in Japan.

 

Japan is the oldest society in the world and has a shrinking population and there are severe side effects such as a smaller labor pool and a shrinking domestic market to sell products to. What are some of the challenges and opportunities this demographic shift has presented for Peacock?  

The shortage of labor is the most problematic and painful aspect for many Japanese manufacturing-related companies, and we are no different. Of course, the Japanese government is attempting to take keen action to avoid this situation, with many initiatives being put in place, but with the shrinkage continuing, it is forcing companies like ours to take the initiative to do something by themselves.

Firstly, we have tried to utilize overseas manufacturing locations and we have seven affiliate factories in China. We are also looking at other locations outside of China.

In addition, we are trying to implement factory automation (FA). Each new location that we propose as a production site will now need to have FA introduced to lessen the burden. Another social aspect you mentioned was the increase in elderly members of society, and this is something that has been happening in Japan for many years now. We have taken this as a business opportunity to strengthen our R&D capabilities to develop possible products for this target audience.

 

One product you offer is the PORTA-BOTTLE, a stainless-steel bottle that can be personalized to each customer with 12 designs to choose from along with long-term cold and heat insulation. What are some of the other competitive advantages of the PORTA-BOTTLE, and are you looking to launch other customizable products going forward?

The idea of introducing the PORTA-BOTTLE came back in 2021 based on SDGs.

The concept at the time was known as My Bottle, and basically, the idea was to pour the drinks you like, store it at your preferred temperature for a long time, and carry it in a stylish and fun way.

SDG principles were the foundation for introducing this product. Before the PORTA-BOTTLE, there were conventional products designed more for school children, but we decided to target both adults and the older demographic. The PORTA-BOTTLE is more fashionable than those conventional types of products.

 

Is this only available for the domestic market or is it also available overseas?

At the moment, it is only available in the domestic market, but the possibility is out there and we believe that there is potential to introduce this product to overseas markets. The magic of the PORTA-BOTTLE is the balance between fashion and usability. When first developing this product, we felt the needs of the market and while other companies had similar ideas, we were the first company to introduce this type of product to the market.

 

Physical retailers have struggled immensely due to the COVID pandemic and changes to lifestyles such as social distancing have contributed heavily to this. However, on the other side, online sales have jumped and Japan has become the 4th largest e-commerce market in the world. How has your business adapted to take advantage of this growth in e-commerce?

First of all, we did see a huge difference in numbers before and after the pandemic, and we saw a real plunge in sales from physical retail locations, while at the same time, online sales skyrocketed. Obviously, with stay-at-home orders, people did not have the opportunity to go to physical stores for months at the beginning of 2020. Before the pandemic, 80% of our products were sold in retail locations, however, those numbers dropped drastically during the pandemic. Every cloud has a silver lining though and online sales through Amazon and Yahoo were a godsend. To be frank, this trend was apparent even before the pandemic, and in 2019, we started promoting more online sales. It took us some time and I think the pandemic definitely expedited the process, but we as a company now see those online numbers growing, whereas the same story cannot be said for retail sales. Gradually Japan is returning to normal and people are starting to return to retail stores, so in our eyes, it is a win-win situation.

It helped us as a company to realize some of the managerial points that we could not truly understand by solely selling in retail stores, and e-commerce’s popularity helped us understand the appropriate method for selling products based on the target audience. In another way, it allowed us to reach a wider audience with our products. Another side effect is the decision process itself, and we find that customers do much more due diligence before making a purchase online, which is great for us as a producer of high-quality products. This research that customers are doing resulted in more inquiries coming our way online than ever before. Additionally, if customers like our products they are more likely to return time and time again to purchase more products from us.

 

Do you have a favorite product?

Yes, one particular product series we have is for alcoholic beverages which has products such as beer mugs, tumblers, and wine cooler. Within the series, there are products that are designed for Japanese sake, and because of the pandemic, they have become a rather popular product. People tend to spend more time at home and during that time, they want to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. With these double-wall vacuum insulated containers, people rediscovered the magic of alcohol during the pandemic. These days we are seeing a lot of customers coming to buy products in this segment. I particularly like these products and personally use them in my house. We would like to introduce more likewise products in the future.



This series is what we call the Home Izakaya Series, and when we talk to our customers overseas, we explain to them Home Izakaya means the home bar collection. I am sure if you have been to Japan, you have been to an izakaya, and this is the place where you get to connect with your friends and chit-chat by drinking your favorite alcoholic beverages. During the pandemic, people were not able to do that, so we wanted to create this kind of experience at home.

 

A lot of your products are used for beverages, but different beverages can have an effect on different containers. One example is the fact that tumblers are not designed to withstand the pressure of carbon dioxide, and the acidity of soda can increase the wear and tear of the metal lining in some bottles. How are you able to ensure that your bottles can handle these different types of beverages without affecting their quality?

It starts with choosing the appropriate material; one that has excellent corrosion resistance over a long period of time. SUS 316 grade stainless steel, sometimes referred to as

A4 (18/12) stainless steel is often used over SUS 304; also known as A2 (18/8) stainless steel. Choosing a proper material is always important for finalizing an end product. That designation relates to the Japanese standard and it means that the stainless steel is more corrosion-resistant than the SUS 304 stainless steel.

 

In addition to bottles, we also know that you provide cooking utensils and appliances, and one series is the Living Jar. What technologies have you implemented to allow the Living Jar to have a long heat retention capacity, and in your opinion, what are some of the benefits of warm cooking versus hot cooking?

The concept behind this product is that it is designed with the female target audience in mind. This is because women around the world are working more hours and have less time to cook at home. The idea is that this microwave oven pot itself allows for quick and fast cooking. Furthermore, as heating progresses inside the thermos, it prevents uneven heating and ensures that the food is cooked to perfection with great taste.

Food can be kept warm for longer periods of time, eliminating the need to reheat food in the pot. When you repeatedly warm up food, the taste starts to go, so this problem has been solved to some extent by this product.

 We are all busy people in our daily lives and we do not have much time to prepare food at home. This is the concept behind this product; to simplify the work in the kitchen, especially for women who are too busy in the workplace to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

 

If we look at Western markets like Australia, the United States, and most of Europe, women are choosing to work more, and time constraints are a big issue. Is marketing this product to overseas markets something of interest to Peacock?

I would say that yes, it is true that this phenomenon is not new to women around the globe, so we would like to be able to introduce this product outside of the domestic market.

 

To achieve that, would you look to form some sort of partnership with international distributors or other firms?

We have already started utilizing distribution channels to introduce our products, and I think we will look to continue this method to get our products out there. The concepts we develop are not just for Japan, they are global concepts and we hope to reach the hearts of customers all around the world.

Specialized exhibitions are another way to promote our products, and we have successfully taken part in domestic and overseas expos. By participating in these shows, we are able to introduce new and existing products to a new audience, and prospective clients can get first-hand experience with our products. They can understand the features of our products and exactly how it looks. Just last March, we attended The Inspired Home Show in Chicago, which was formally known as The International Home and Houseware Show. Additionally, we plan to exhibit there next year when they return to Chicago in 2024. We have to strengthen our position as a manufacturing company because we make the products and we understand them better than anyone else. By participating in these international shows we can introduce our products in a better way to overseas markets.

 

One of your newer products is an electric grill, the WY-E130, which significantly reduces smoke and oil splashes during cooking. What motivated you to create this specific product?

The grill itself has 3D ridges, which allow oil to be dropped in a fast way and only small amounts are left in the top layer. This is a new concept for electric grills, which as you mentioned, significantly reduces smoke and oil splashes during cooking. Japan is famous for grilled meat, also known as yakiniku, and when you talk about cooking this meat at home, there is an association with excessive amounts of smoke.

That had to be eliminated, so the story behind this product was simply to have less smoke when grilling. This grill actually started at a much larger size and as it evolved, we added a new product (a new size) to the lineup, to allow more people to enjoy it at their homes.

 

In 2012 you opened operations in Shanghai. Moving forward are there any countries or regions you have your eye on for a physical expansion into?

The idea of expanding our business overseas is at the forefront of our minds right now, and this is specifically because of the domestic market shrinkage mentioned earlier. The numbers have not been good for the past two years, and that was the foremost reason we went to Shanghai. China allowed us to introduce our products to a wider audience in a much larger market. From China, we are looking to expand further throughout Asia, specifically Southeast Asia, which seems like a natural progression from China.

International exhibitions are another avenue to follow and, in my opinion, it is key to introducing our products outside of Asia to markets such as the United States and Europe. We are not sure about time frames right now, but we are keenly aware that the domestic market is in a slump and we need to be looking beyond Japan for new opportunities.

 

Imagine that we come back in two years and have this interview all over again: what goals would you like to have achieved by then?

There are many things on my mind, and the pandemic was definitely a game-changer. For the past several years we have been forced to think of solutions to problems that never existed before COVID-19. It took us some time, and honestly, now we can look back at it and there were some good results too, and it certainly changed our perspective on the world.

What is left is a new principles base, and as you know our company is over 70 years old now. While it is important to not forget the roots that helped establish our company, we also have to continue to push forward to the future. Everyone here is putting their heart on the table and trying their best to manufacture amazing products.

SDGs are also an important aspect of our company and our manufacturing principles. This is one part of our mid-term strategy and our plan is to continue to keep SDGs at the forefront of our manufacturing principles. We want to be a company that represents social contributions and environmental preservation.

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