Since launching Japan’s first anti-bacterial soap dispensers in 1952, Saraya has developed several groundbreaking solutions in the field of health and hygiene and today has positioned itself at the forefront of improving sanitation in Africa. The Worldfolio sits down with Saraya president Yusuke Saraya to discuss the company’s rich history of innovation, its products and plans for international expansion.
Could you give a brief introduction to the company, the reasons why it was founded and how it became so extremely innovative and competitive?
In 1952 after World War II, there were a lot of diseases, but of course, many cures were also appearing at the time. Hence, we decided to focus on preventive measurements: hand hygiene. At the time, hospitals used to use a dilute disinfectant, and after conducting some research, we realized that after 5-6 uses, the disinfectant was contaminated. Hence, we introduced alcohol hand sanitizer in hospitals at the time having a great social and economic impact. Fortunately, hand sanitizer is still extremely important. We are getting more and more resistant to anti-biotics, hence, currently a lot of countries, such as United States, Germany and Japan are paying a lot of attention to hand sanitizer once again.
Here at Saraya, we always want to innovate, and make sure we optimize all of our products. Hence, we introduced the first no-touch, automatic hand sanitizer in which there is no necessity of touching it. As you might now, Ebola is back in Congo. What people do not tend to know is that Ebola is in fact very easy to prevent. However, countries like Congo do not have the opportunity to use no-touch hand sanitizers. Nonetheless, we have already entered the market trying to have a positive impact, and have already entered several countries in Africa, which we believe, has a lot of potential.
Furthermore, in 1971 Japanese rivers and lakes were polluted by the petroleum-based detergent. At the time it was very hard to decompose, nonetheless, after arduous research, we were able to introduce a palm and coconut-oil based detergent, which of course, was not cheap. However, in order to be able to introduce it as a house commodity, and once again, optimize the cost-efficiency, we did a plastic vinyl package, in which clients could refill it, make it cheaper and accessible to the customers. Now we are introducing it to Europe and United States, as it has been extremely successful in Japan.
Later on, our researchers understood that the oil is actually biodegradable, hence, making it extremely powerful for washing IPS cells. IPS cells need to be cleaned in isolation, and this oil allows you to do so. Hence, we are now using this product for regenerative medicine. We currently, have the patent and we aim to start selling it starting next year.
Another interesting product we have developed is Lakanto. This product was developed because my father was diabetic, and he did not like chemical sweetener. So, he asked the researchers at the time to find a natural way of producing sweetener. Sometime later, the researchers found a fruit in China which is extremely sweet and allows us to make natural sweetener 300 times sweeter than the regular sugar. We have been present in the USA for three years now with our subsidiary, Saraya USA. Currently, this is a very important market, as it accounts for 5 million yen in sales per month. The US is currently avoiding carbonated sugar, so this market has great potential and we are currently the only ones in the market that have this type of natural sweetener.
These products are just examples of how, here in Saraya, we aim to be innovative and challenge the traditional way of thinking. Our aim is to stay competitive, innovative, alert and become the number-one hand sanitizer in the world.
You have a very diversified portfolio of products ranging from health, hygiene, food and environmental products and services. Shall we expect any new exciting product soon?
We are always trying to innovate. For instance, here in Japan, we are currently trying to monitor the temperature of the stores and the supermarkets. It is different from our conventional strategy, however we believe it is important for food sanitation and for the management of supermarkets. Currently, in the supermarkets they only check every hour the temperature of the refrigerator. However, Japanese love sashimi, and it is important to have accurate control of the temperature of the fish in order to ensure a healthy meal. Currently, what we do is that we installed some temperature sensors and later on we collect the information, so that the employees can manage the temperature immediately. It is now our first trial and we are present in over 20-30 supermarkets.
In addition, we are also developing sensors to put in the bread, in which thanks to IoT, we will be able to monitor the fermentation process. This is currently under development in terms of process-control, but we aim to launch it by next year.
Hence, we are always looking to find new valuable products to assist the needs of our customers, and I believe we will be dispatching new products using IoT, and other market applications.
SARAYA was founded on the premise of creating new hygiene solutions for protecting the health of users while maintaining a harmonious relation with the environment. Can you share with us the key competitive advantages of the company and the key milestones?
Being able to always have a direct relationship with our customers is our main driving force. It is important to have a structure, nonetheless, having our customers satisfied, and being able to adapt to their needs, is our main competitive advantage.
In September 2015, all 193 member countries of the United Nations adopted the "2030 Agenda", agreeing to eliminate extreme poverty, inequality, and injustice over the next 15 years in order to create a better future. With the objective companies and various organizations are working towards creating a sustainable planet. How is SARAYA contributing to the social, economic and environment development of the SDGs?
SDG 3 targets health and, specifically, 3.4 aims to reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and to promote mental health and well-being.
Here in Saraya, we believe it is our obligation to promote hand-hygiene in Africa. For some people, it might be obvious to clean their hands before touching a newborn. However, in many parts of the world, it is not. Hence, we would like to implement educational programs, and contribute with hand sanitizer to ensure everyone has access to it, because this is not a matter of money, it is a matter of life, and I believe, in that sense, we should change the way we operate and we think as a society. Hence, we launched the “Wash a Million Hands Project” in Uganda.
Another big new concept we are trying to implement within the same SDG is to allow everyone to have universal health care coverage. What do I mean by that? In Europe everyone has access to basic medical accessibility. However, some countries in Africa do not have that possibility. Hence, we are trying to implement a body sensor which will allow individuals to know, for instance, if they have fever or not. A very interesting story I would like to share with you, is my experience in Africa. Anyone you meet in Africa will always assume that if they have fever, they have Malaria. Therefore, my objective is to be able to come up with a body sensor which will allow individuals in Africa, and all around the world to acknowledge their symptoms and get treated.
Lastly, in 2025 we will be hosting the World Expo here in Osaka, and the organizing committee will like to showcase how Japan is “designing the future society”. The content is not yet confirmed, however, the idea is to showcase how the Japanese society, specially, since 1995 and 2011 with the tsunami which affected many people here in Japan, has allowed business leaders and employees, to find a balance between the business economic growth and the sustainable and social impact of their company. We are no exception, and I believe innovation can bring a great social impact.
Saraya is present in North America, New Zealand, India, Malaysia, Egypt and France. And you recently signed a new partnership in Poland which will reinforce your presence in Europe. Could you please share with us your international strategy?
What it is extremely important to understand when you are present in so many different countries is the culture. Everyone is different, everyone has different needs, and what we always do is “think globally, and act locally”. The consumption and business actions are done locally, however the overall strategy is global.
You just signed a new partnership in Poland. Where is next?
We have a sales office in India, but we are actively looking for a local partner, and India is a very big market. In addition, we currently have a guest from Dubai here in Japan now. The idea is that we want to make Dubai our hub to the Middle East. We also have an office in Egypt, and we are looking to open a factory next to Suez, giving us the opportunity to have a direct entrance to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.