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  • Shiho

Time to make the impact of the Mottainai spirit visible

Calbee, the manufacturer of potato crisps, launched a marketing campaign in a very Japanese way last year.

They realised that 84% of consumers fold up a crisp package small after they eat. The beauty of folding is to reduce the size of waste volume, which leads to reducing the environmental load.

They started a campaign called ‘Oripake,’ which means folding a package. They printed a four-leaf clover, which appears when customers nicely fold the package, and photos taken with the Calbee App can transfer to points, which can be used for gifts, e.g., growing potatoes.

Japan and Sustainability

This campaign represents the current situation of how the majority of food companies in Japan integrate sustainability into their products; they prioritise using less energy, raw materials and reducing waste.

Japan sees the sustainable future from the point of environment, often from the view of society (education and inclusion, etc.), and people (health and well-being and equality, etc.) are deprioritised. Equally, sustainability can often be seen as a cost, not the engine to create economic benefits.

In addition, unlike Calbee, the majority of Japanese food businesses are still in the stage of CSR; they give back some portion of profits to good causes. On the other hand, the world has already shifted its focus to 'the sustainability of the life cycle and supply chain' — from sourcing of raw materials through to product manufacture, distribution, consumption, and disposal. This is a different approach where everyone who has been involved in the creation and sales of the product can get their shares equally, rather than just a particular group of people benefitting.

Upon the increase in interests in lifecycle sustainability management, France has passed a regulation which requires some industries to put the product/service’s carbon footprint on the packages within five years*.

Japan is positioned 17th out of 166 countries in the SDI index and Dashboard report in 2020; however, the interests among Japanese consumers are increasing: According to the survey conducted in 2019, it is clear that 81% of consumers are willing to shop more with products sustainably produced and manufactured, even though they are not currently doing so. Rakuten Insight reports that 32% of people think they intend to shop in a sustainable way strongly/somewhat strongly compared with before COVID-19*. The needs for sustainable and organic products are underserved, which means there are business opportunities.

In fact, Japanese people appreciate their own sustainable philosophy. Mottainai is the Buddhist-origin word that links to the action of ‘reuse,’ ‘recycle,’ ‘reduce’ and ‘respect’ to what we have. Eiichi Shibusawa, father of Japanese capitalism from the late 19th century, put public welfare over his own interest.

But somehow, when the Japanese economy had grown rapidly, it was busy importing the way western companies run their businesses, not paying much attention to how to appreciate our sustainable way of living. Given Japan has the foundation, I am hopeful that the movement of sustainability will be growing rapidly.

The Duchy Organic

Waitrose Duchy Organic

The Duchy Organic from the UK are different in terms of its experience and approach to sustainability.

The Duchy Organic brand was originally conceived in 1990 by Prince Charles, and it is run by Waitrose, a high-end supermarket, since 2010. Since 1983, Waitrose contributes to making organic food accessible to everyday life — the Duchy Organic’ product range is grown over 300.

The brand says that buying organic means supporting a way of farming that works in harmony with the environment to grow food in a sustainable way, the highest welfare standards and vibrant farmland wildlife. The package clearly shows its support for the Prince’s charities — to help farmers develop more sustainable farming practices — and design, where the same gold colour is used for the logo and the word ‘organic.’ ‘Good causes’ and ‘Good farming’ are printed with the bigger and distinctive hand-writing typefaces.

The Duchy Organic has an iconic brand leader, a clear vision, a track history of delivering what they promise, and good brand communication. And last but not least, it tastes delicious, especially for biscuits!

Lessons from the British brand

What Japanese companies can learn is the segmentation of sustainable customers. The Duchy Organic targets the premium organic market, which is not luxury but not cheap, and they developed their product offer, channels and brand communication around it.

In the current Japanese market, I see three groups: those who support sustainability proactively, those who appreciate the reassurance and safety which associates with sustainability/organic, and those who think sustainability is cool.

These three are led by different motivations. The first is led by the purpose and value of a company/product, the second is function, and the third is stories and design that move their hearts. Unlike the second group, the last group is likely to feel that the mainstream of organic packages in Japan could be too minimal. ‘Organic equals less’ is the right idea, but it does not necessarily mean it should be boring.

In addition, they can launch more product lines that put sustainability to the front. For Calbee, for instance, it is a product while putting the product sustainability for environment, society and people first, from the point of product life cycle, e.g. an organic range of crisps with responsibly sourced potato.

Given 70% of Japanese consumers say that they don’t understand the meaning of certificates, e.g., JAS organic mark, they are waiting for products that are straightforward — how buying this product can contribute to creating a better world, and the brand name, brand architecture and visual/verbal identity (how to look and talk) enable the clear positioning.

Lastly, the Japanese way of communication known for ‘who knows most, speaks least’ needs to be put aside. When brands talk with consumers, it will create even more empathy and trust if brands can address challenges in the world that consumers live in. Similar to the Duchy Organic supporting sustainable farming, customers are waiting for bold and ethical brands that make the impact rather than putting ‘eco-friendly’ in small letters just as an appendix.



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