Gifting is an often-overlooked demand driver in the Japanese retail industry...
The size of Japan’s domestic food and beverage gift market has been estimated to exceed $32 billion in 2023.*
Gifting is a critical demand driver in the Japanese retail industry. However, it is an often-overlooked market segment when it comes to the marketing and sales of imported food and beverage brands in Japan. The reason is simple: Western exporters tend to focus on supermarkets and online platforms.
Gift-giving is a deeply entrenched part of everyday life and culture in Japan and differs from the West in many ways.
While presents to friends and family members on birthdays, anniversaries, and other events are mostly hand-selected, seasonal gifts typically follow the theme of the season rather than the individual’s personality.
In Japan, it is considered good manners to bring souvenirs with you as gifts when traveling to visit someone. In fact, an entire industry has developed to cater to this custom, and souvenirs are available at every airport and tourist destination around the country.
Like in the West, giving gifts at weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations is an important part of Japanese culture. However, giving something in return for a celebratory gift is also a custom in Japan. This means that it is not unusual for the recipients to give a thank-you gift in return for wedding gifts, anniversary gifts, etc. Many women even give gifts as an expression of appreciation for their engagement rings.
Department stores, sweets shops, and airports normally have a wide selection of beautifully packaged gift sets, which often consist of food that is elegantly arranged in a box.
Traditionally, seasonal gifts may include fruits or locally produced food items. Japanese consumers today, however, can choose from a wide range of items, among them , Western-style products like patisserie and wine. In some industries, such as the chocolate industry, seasonal gifting accounts for the majority share of annual sales.
New Year’s Day is the most important traditional holiday celebrated in Japan. The food gift around this time is called osechi. Traditionally, it is a box that contains several different bite-sized delicacies, each with a unique meaning. For example, shrimp represents the bent back of an elderly person and symbolizes a long life. Recently, modern Western-style osechi have also become popular (read more about this here).
Summer usually involves the giving of refreshing items to alleviate the heat and humidity of the season. It is an expression of gratitude and wishing good health to the other person. Originally, this involved fruits; however, Western-style sweets, such as ice cream and cookies, have recently also become popular.
For many chocolate brands in Japan, Valentine’s Day generates the largest turnover of the year. The total market size of gifts given for this occasion is estimated to be around $1 billion.* In contrast to Western gifting habits, in Japan, men are typically given presents by women.
March 14 is earmarked for White Day celebrations . This is the day on which men give presents to women “in return” for the gifts given to them on Valentine’s Day. The market size is (perhaps surprisingly ) less than half that of Valentine’s Day but is still significant in volume.*
In Japan, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are widely celebrated with gifts for the respective parents . The former has a market size of around $1 billion*, which is similar to that of Valentine’s Day.
Although not a traditionally religious event in Japan, many families and couples choose to celebrate the day by buying Christmas cakes and chocolates or making Western foods, such as turkey and fried chicken, at home.
Securing a spot as a year-round item in a Japanese supermarket can be very challenging as it may require painstaking negotiations over a long period of time.
Occasion-driven gifting is a market segment that food and beverage brands can easily understand and prepare for in advance. This segment of the Japanese gifting market can also offer large-scale results if you use the right approach.
Seasonal offerings require a smaller inventory, so it is generally not an issue if the distributor runs out of stock. This results in a smaller risk to distributors and thus makes the product easier to sell. It can be an excellent way to start a new business relationship with a new distributor.
If your products are already sold in Japanese retail stores, seasonal offerings can enhance your annual sales and generate more attention for your brand. Large Japanese brands, such as Kirin (beer) and Meiji (chocolate), promote celebratory offerings for each occasion to maintain their positions in the local market.
To sell your product in the Japanese market as a seasonal item, you need to find the right marketing strategy and then localize your packaging and promotions so that your distributors can work with your items successfully. If you want to start with relatively low risk, you could consider collaborating with local brands. This may make it easier for you to introduce your product to your target market segments.
*Sources: PR TIMES / Yano Research Institute and Kinenbi Culture Laboratory
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