For over 100 years, Toyo Glass has been providing high-quality glass containers and services related to their products. Today, Toyo’s technological advantage has allowed them to remove foreign properties from their bottles and have highest regarded lightweight bottles in Japan. In this interview, President Shingo Noguchi discusses the company’s long history of success and evolution, stemming from the company’s philosophy to contribute to a sustainable society for all.
Japanese packaging manufacturers are known for their excellent products and for being especially innovative. What differentiates Japanese packaging manufacturers from international competitors?
In the past, a major overseas glass bottle manufacturer visited our Chiba factory. After the plant tour, they told us how good our quality was. The high quality was recognized by such a major overseas company, but this is due to the fact that Japanese customers are very strict about quality. There are many cases in Japan where appearance defects (defects that do not affect functionality) become problematic. In the past, customers have pointed out that the liquid level position after filling was varying slightly due to slight variations in the capacity of bottles. By continuing our business in the Japanese market, where quality is extremely strict, we believe that we have acquired the technology to provide our customers with high-quality glass containers that are competitive with overseas competitors.
Toyo Glass Chiba Plant
We believe that we also have a technological advantage. In particular, we have know-how regarding lightweighting technology. The production of lightweight bottles requires inspection technology that melts the glass at an appropriate temperature, controls the thickness distribution of the glass with high glass-forming technology, and removes even a small amount of foreign particles that can lead to bottle breakage. These cannot be easily imitated by other overseas companies in the same industry. Toyo Glass is proud to have this technology, and the number of lightweight bottle items in Japan is No. 1, which is our strong point.
Toyo Glass was established in 1888 and has been manufacturing high-quality glass containers and supplying them both domestically and overseas for over a century. What are some of the characteristics that distinguish your products?
We are striving to solve social problems by making the daily life of the elderly easier by adopting a design that considers lightweighting and barrier-free.
In addition, we have a printing machine that can print on the entire circumference of the glass container regardless of the round or square shape. Since this device can also print on curved surfaces, it can also print on containers with unique designs. In addition, we have 7 designers in-house, and we can make proposals that satisfy our customers' various design requirements.
The Toyo Multi Coat (TMC) allows for producing a variety of designs, while also preventing UV rays from destroying the contents inside the glass. Can you tell us more about this technology and how you are customising it to suit different client’s needs?
There are two specifications of TMC on glass containers. Firstly for one-way specifications featuring abundant color variations and secondly for returnable specifications to realize ultra-lightweight bottles.
In the one-way specification, a wide range of color tones can be selected, including warm colors and milky white as well as blue and green, which are difficult to be expressed by the bottle color itself. Also, customer can select whether the surface texture is smooth with clear tone color or frosted glass-like. In addition of UV cut function for the purpose of protecting the contents can be selected. It is possible to select and combine functions according to customer’s needs.
In some foods and beverages, the exposure to ultraviolet rays may cause the flavor to be impaired or nutrients to be decomposed. For that reason, we are making proposals that take into account the contents of our clients.
With returnable specifications, it prevents scratches on the glass surface that cause strength deterioration. In particular, since it is essential to prevent fine scratches on the lightweight bottles mentioned earlier, this coating is always recommended for ultra-lightweight bottles that are used returnably.
TMC clear tone
TMC frost tone
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted companies both positively and negatively. What has the impact been on your business?
Sales of alcoholic beverages decreased significantly because the provision of alcoholic beverages for business stores was not permitted at the time of the “State of Emergency” and restaurants and bars were forced to close during this period.
On the other hand, as the number of people who drink alcohol at home has increased, the number of consumers who purchase whiskey in bottles has increased, and there is a phenomenon that demand has increased in this section.
You offer a range of different glass products and bottles. What is your bestselling bottle, and which has the most growth potential in the future?
Bottles for vitamin drinks are most in demand, not only in Japan, but also in some parts of Southeast Asia. Our vitamin drink bottles are the best-selling ones domestically. Due to the Japanese food boom, Japanese sake, made-in Japan whiskey, and gin are becoming more popular overseas, and the demand for premium bottles filled by those contents, is also increasing. We believe that demand for this premium bottle for overseas markets will continue to grow in the future.
Besides glass bottles, you also offer technical assistance in designing and installing facilities for glass manufacturing. How much of your revenue comes from this part of your business and are you looking to expand it further?
In the international sector, during the depreciation of the yen before the Plaza Accord Agreement, we actively sold bottle manufacturing machines and exported plants, but after the Plaza Accord Agreement, we are focusing on the business of providing technical support to overseas glass bottle manufacturers. Although we continue to provide technical assistance, we are working to expand the bottle export business from 2018 because sales of bottles are declining in the domestic market. We are currently exporting bottles to the US, Canada, China, Thailand and the UK, but sales are not large yet, so we would like to increase them further in the future.
Which countries are you looking to penetrate as part of your export strategy and what strategies would you like to implement?
Currently, we are developing new businesses at the same time as confirming market needs in various countries. Regarding competition with other companies in the same industry in Southeast Asian countries such as China, we know that general design bottles is not so much competitive in terms of price, so we think it is important to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We believe that we can differentiate ourselves by proposing designs, which are our strengths, and reducing the weight of bottles. In terms of penetration into the Chinese market, the key is the designing technique that is highly evaluated by many customers. Since many companies in China operate in a top-down manner, we believe that approaching the top management is the key to business success.
Manufacturing glass is a resource-intensive process. Your company has developed a system called CELVSS, where cameras are used to sort recycled glass and remove foreign matter. How are you helping reduce your products’ environmental impact?
In glass bottle manufacturing, our partner companies use cullet collected from the market by recycling, so it is necessary to eliminate impurities mixed in during collection. For this reason, our subsidiary Toyo Glass Machinery Co., Ltd. has developed the CELVSS system. By removing foreign substances mixed in the cullet, the amount of collected glass increases, CO2 emissions during glass bottle manufacturing are reduced, and resources and energy are saved.
Foreign material removal device CELVSS in cullet
We are currently proposing this system to several companies working in the field of recycling. We are committed to reducing CO2 and are working to reduce emissions when glass melts. Historically, the glass manufacturing industry has promoted recycling. Furthermore, we have set a goal of reducing CO2 emissions in Scope 1 + 2 compared to FY2019 by 50% until 2030.
In order to reduce CO2, we plan to change the fuel that melts glass from heavy oil to LNG and switch to 100% oxygen combustion in the future. In the next step, we aim for carbon neutrality. This is an ongoing process and will take some time to fully implement.
In terms of penetrating foreign markets, is co-creation something that you are interested in, combining Japanese monozukuri with foreign expertise to create new products that can have an impact abroad?
As a more sophisticated type of bottle, there is a bottle with a thick bottom to get a sense of luxury. This was originally a request from a whiskey manufacturer and was made for export to the United States and European countries.
Due to Japan's declining population, many domestic liquor manufacturers are shifting their production more to export them to foreign countries. Due to these movements, there have been many requests for custom-made glass bottles made for specific purposes overseas, in addition to the standard bottles that Japanese people use on a daily basis.
Around the world, especially in Southeast Asia, people are looking for more premium products as people's living standards and incomes increase. The impact is also appearing in our industry. The same is true for Japanese cosmetics, which are very popular with Southeast Asian consumers. As a result, we work with many companies from the design stage to produce sophisticated bottles for export abroad, both in cosmetics and alcoholic beverages.
Imagine we come back for Toyo Glass’ 140th anniversary and interview you again. What would you like to tell us? What are your dreams for the company and what goals would you liked to have accomplished by then?
Japan's glass business is not in a good business environment due to the declining population and the shift to other containers.
This has forced many Japanese companies to go abroad. In our case, we are interested in the connection between glass containers and countries that are closely related to them.
The 140th anniversary will be seven years later, but I don't think it will be that long.
As one of our business expansion strategies, we are currently collecting overseas market data and analysing the market for further development of overseas markets, and we are figuring the best timing to introduce our products and technologies to overseas customers. We are also considering market development in new fields. For example, it is an ion culture pack that helps the growth of seaweed by dissolving it in seawater, ionizing it, and releasing minerals. As the growth of seaweed progresses, the amount of blue carbon increases, which contributes to CO2 reduction. We would like to promote business expansion including such product development.
We want to realize a sustainable society while contributing to the environment, responding to diversity as long as there are consumers and customers who love and use glass products.