Since 2010 I have been living in Japan. I don’t think I’ve experienced a more different culture when compared other Asian countries. It is a wonderful society and culture which is full of contradictions. Contradictions because, there are times when everything appears to follow rational thought, and then after some more enquiry something will contradict your previous experience.Food and beverage is a great example. During an average lunchtime or dinner excursion you’ll find food which is freshly prepared and staggeringly good to take away. I remember my first Japanese chicken curry. It was so good, that I had it every day for a week. I bought it from a local grocery store. Japanese consumers are known for expectations for high quality and demand for exceptional freshness. By this standard I believed all food and drink would be the same. However, it isn’t true for all food and beverage as my weekly grocery shop revealed. If the children’s confectionary and snacks category in Japan were the creation of Ferran Adria I would happily make it a destination. But this category makes Uncle Toby’s Roll Ups look more organic than a tree. Simply the packaging and the products are more processed and artificial looking than a scripted Discovery Channel documentary series.
However, this category aside, I am continually staggered by the effort and consideration Japanese manufacturers pay to their packaging. While it is ever so slightly over packaged most of the time, there is no length a Japanese manufacturer will not go to in order to appeal on the shelf. Customised shapes? Naturally. Product and package are given equal consideration in this country. It is very natural for a food and beverage manufacturer in Japan to investment beyond the graphics on the packaging. Structural packaging design is considered as an important part of the project. Additionally, the product in it’s package is presented like a diamond at Tiffanys. Chocolate coated macadamia nuts by Meiji are packaged in a sleeved box with plastic formed tray. It makes each macadamia (though there aren’t many in the box) more special. This is not an isolated case, it seems most products are revered by the packaging. Even apples are wrapped in Styrofoam netting to prevent them from being bruised.
By comparison, Nestle, the last company I worked for, would only ever consider redesigning the label, because of the need for the packaging machinery to pay itself off ASAP. As a result, most brands and products used the packaging. If Japan’s food and beverage industry finally model themselves on the Toyota business model, I believe their Australian and Asian counterparts will face a formidable competitor and a more progressive attitude towards packaging design will be needed.
What else is different….local flavour, taste preferences and attitudes towards nutrition. Every meal is also considered according its calorie loading and nutrition value. Japanese people believe that the road to a long life is partially dependent on eating what you need. Not over eating what your body doesn’t. As a result Japanese consumers don’t need % daily intake guidance on the front of their packaging, as is required in Australia.
If you decide to export your products to Japan, or if you are a Japanese manufacturer looking to expand into Australia, you will need to have the information on the package label changed to meet local regulatory requirements. So if there are going to be some expenses involved, it’s a great opportunity to have the packaging designed tailored to stand out amongst the local competition, appeal more to local tastes and consumption behaviour to name a few areas. Doing some homework on the export country, it’s people, retailing….will pay dividends if you apply the knowledge to the design of your packaging. It will give your company a better chance and you some piece of mind.