Watch our highlights from Foodex 2017, and find out how British food and drink companies are succeeding in Japan.
The Alcoholic Beverage Market in Japan is Booming
The popular annual trade show, Foodex, attracted thousands of buyers and distributors interested in the food and beverages sector.
Buyers and distributors alike flocked to the UK pavilion to sample the products on display.
This British brand provides premium quality pure fruit juices, mixers and sparkling drinks for high quality hotels, cafes and shops in the UK and Asia.
Folkington’s is one of the fastest growing premium soft drinks brands in the UK.
“There are three arms to the brand, including the original juices in glass bottles, sparkling drinks in beautifully designed cans, and the new range of mixers, launched just six weeks ago. These are already jetting around the world on British Airways flights,” says Paul Bendit, Director at Folkington’s.
The market in the UK is focused on high-end retail, independent retail, pubs, bars, restaurants, minibars and hotels. Folkington’s products can also be found in Europe, the Middle East, South East Asia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The premium juice brand is hoping to add Japan to the list.
“We’re hoping to open up very soon in Japan,” explains Bendit. “We are looking for an importer and we think we might have found someone to represent our brand here. We have had a lot of interest and the trick for us is to find the right partner who can understand the values of our brand and get the products in the right places around the country.”
“Gin and tonic is the biggest, fastest growing consumer drink globally, up 17% in the UK last year, and has hardly scratched the surface in Japan. We expect that it’s likely to be popular here as well, as these markets tend to follow each other. We’re hoping the tonic water and the other mixers will have an exciting future here,” Bendit says of the brand’s aspirations for the market.
Bendit, who develops the recipes himself, believes that Folkington’s is the right product for Japan, it being a premium product, consumers have money to spend, and most importantly, the drinks aren’t too sweet. “They are very clean and natural,” he says, “and appeal to the Japanese palate.
“The reaction to all of the Folkington’s products has been positive,” says Bendit of the reactions of buyers and distributors at the show. Traditional British flavours such as elderflower and rhubarb have gone down very well, as have the ginger ale and ginger beer.
“It’s the right time for this brand,” he reiterates.
Bendit also praised the DIT trade officers for their depth of knowledge of the market and proactivity.
Kold Group Ltd
Kold Group is an independent British drinks company that produces premium alcoholic drinks
KÖLD Cocktails was launched in 2013 to help cocktail-lovers enjoy the perfect cocktail at home without any of the mixing or mess that so often comes with cocktail making. Inspiration for the brand was drawn from the ice bars, nightlife, style and purity of the Scandinavian region and all of the cocktails are mixed to classic recipes using 100% natural ingredients and premium spirits, such as triple-distilled vodka and barrel-aged rum.
Since the launch the brand has gone from strength to strength reigniting the ready to drink category and winning various awards including a gold star Great Taste Award for their Lychee Martini two years running, something hard to achieve for a ready to serve cocktail. KÖLD Cocktails have achieved listings in some of the UK’s best and most premium retailers and are now exporting to other parts of the world.
Sales Director Tori Carlaw explained the point of difference of the brand.
“KÖLD Cocktails can just be popped in the freezer, and don’t need to be mixed before serving. The convenience comes from the pouches, which are easily freezable. The drinks also contain a double measure of spirits – 8% alcohol – which is a lot higher than most other British drink products, and contain 100% natural ingredients, meaning no artificial flavours, colourings, or preservatives, which is very unlike a lot of British drink products on the market at the moment.”
The brand commissioned an OMIS (Overseas Market Introduction Service) from DIT in 2016, and received valuable feedback which enabled the company to reformat its packaging in a way to make it more suitable for the Japanese market.
“The single pouches ensure a better price point and are great for people who are time-poor but still want to enjoy a nice, bar-quality cocktail at home,” explains Carlaw.
Japan is one of the largest ready-to-drink markets in the world, making it the perfect target market for the brand.
KÖLD’s relationship with DIT dates back to Explore Export events held during Export Week in 2015. “We try to work with DIT in every market that we go to,” explained Carlaw, “as we find them very helpful.”
“We’ve had a great, positive response so far,” Carlaw says of exhibiting at Foodex. “People are very happy with the new price point, loving the packaging and enjoying the flavours.”
Carlaw ended with high praise for DIT. “We are hoping to form a partnership with a distributor here, and it has been very helpful that DIT has done all the background work and invited all the right people. That isn’t the case at every trade show.”
The company brews traditional English ales, craft ales, and limited releases with their tagline: “Better beer. Forever. For everyone.”
Foodex 2017 is the second time that the brand has exhibited in Japan.
Jason Hill, Head Brewer at Eden Brewery, brought three product ranges to the showcase, including very traditional English ales, which are less well-known in Japan; the Eden craft range of beers, which are more in keeping with the modern style of beer drinking; and the limited edition beers, which are brewed once and then sold though, and which are designed to challenge with different tastes and bring new perspectives on beer as a beverage.
In April the brewery will solidify its Japan ties even further, with production of a yuzu juice based IPA in collaboration with Dan Cockburn from Hakuba Brewery in Japan.
Hill commissioned an OMIS from DIT in 2016, and came to Japan at that time to meet potential customers, staying on to attend Foodex 2016.
“I had a vision last year that it would be nice to come back and showcase our products at Foodex again. I didn’t have any concrete plans, but the Embassy’s focus on drinks companies this year was great timing for us,” said Hill.
About the event he said, “It’s been really, really good. We have met lots of potential customers, it’s been a good opportunity to interact with people and a good opportunity to get feedback on the products and check what we’re doing. We’ve had great reactions to the identities of the products, as well as the packaging.”
Eden Brewery is hoping to find a distributor or potentially an end-customer that is also an importer. “We’ve got a lot of work to do when we get back home,” commented Hill.
“We’re looking to keep the brand quite niche and selective, and grow slowly,” said Hill of the brewery’s aims for the future.
The company has continued to work with International Trade Advisers in DIT’s North West region, and Hill had praise for the DIT teams in Japan as well. “We are focusing on five countries, of which three are priority markets,” he said. “Japan has had the most focus for us, simply because of the way the timing has worked out, but we are also actively looking at other markets as well.”
The Cotswolds-based craft bakery and tearooms showcased delicious luxury fruitcakes and shortbread biscuits on the stand.
Huffkins’ Managing Director Joshua Taee spoke to Export to Japan about his hopes for the independent family business going forward.
“This is our first time exhibiting abroad, in Japan, which is very exciting for us,” said Taee.
“We came over with fairly high expectations, without knowing exactly what was going happen during our time out here, and we’ve been really very impressed.”
“It’s been a huge success, and the brand has found enormous traction in this market, which is really encouraging for a small company like us,” he added.
Japanese consumers adore heritage brands, and with a history dating since 1890, Huffkins delivers a beautiful brand story.
The Cotswolds is also a well-documented tourist hotspot for Japanese visitors to the UK to sojourn while enjoying the sights and afternoon teas.
Taee confirms this. “We have a huge Japanese customer base that visits us in the UK. Our original business is a bakery and tearoom company – we have five tearooms in the Cotswolds. As the Cotswolds is hugely popular with Japanese visitors, for a number of years we have noticed an increasing and a growing trend for these visitors from Japan to stop with us and shop with us, and to buy items from our stores that are heavily branded. So we knew there was an affinity for the Huffkins brand with Japanese customers.”
This affinity brought Huffkins to Foodex in 2017.
By the end of day four of the show, morale was high at the Huffkins booth, with Taee describing the team’s feelings as “shell shocked but very excited.”
Japan looks to be the first meaningful market for the company to achieve foreign sales.
Huffkins has pivoted over the past few years as they have expanded to supply customers on a wholesale basis, and four years ago updated the brand presentation and the lineup to modernise the look and feel of the company, to suit a bigger marketplace outside of the Cotswolds.
All of this preparation to prepare the business has shown clear benefits, as evidenced by the popularity of the booth.
The brand has worked with DIT for a number of years, and the expert teams in Japan and the UK provided information and advice to choose the best show for their exporting goals.
Taee praised the help given by DIT. “Knowledge on the ground is the hardest thing to get hold of when you arrive for the show, and where the DIT team have added a lot of value is in providing the connections and making the introductions to the right players in the Japanese market to handle our brand. They have been particularly helpful with reviewing the contacts we’ve met here and are helping us to make intelligent decisions on who to work with going forward. Getting into the right business relationship is essential in Japan, and DIT are advising us all the way.”
UK Pavilion Organisers and Exhibitors
PS8 and the Food & Drink Exporters Association (FDEA) were the organisers of the UK Pavilion at Foodex.
Full list of exhibitors on the UK Pavilion:
Darvilles of Windsor
Eat Natural Ltd
English Tea Shop
Hampstead Tea London
Sun Mark Ltd
DeVine Distillates Group
Kold Group Ltd
Poetic License Distillery
Bonili Japan Co Ltd
Hobgoblin Japan K.K.
Wine Shop Nishimura Co Ltd
Cindy’s Tea Limited
Cullisse Highland Rapeseed Oil
Douglas Laing & Co. Ltd
Hebridean Smokehouse Ltd
Keith Brewery Ltd
Klinge Foods Ltd
Mackie’s of Scotland
Machie’s at Taypack
Macleans Hughland Bakery
Reids of Caithness
Stag Bakeries Ltd
Article and photo by Vanessa Holden, March 2017.