How did Nestlé transform Japan from tea to a coffee consumer?

 Japan as a country is very traditional, it still follows and has preserved its thousands of years of culture. But Nestlé did something revolutionary in Japan. It is surprising to see the immense popularity of the ‘Japanese Coffee Culture’ over its ‘Green Tea’, even though green tea is much healthier and something that belongs to their own culture. 

To find out the answers, we have to go back in the post war era where companies from the Western world saw meteoric growth in Japan but Nestlé was struggling to sell its flagship product i.e. coffee.

Nothing was helping Nestlé. From sampling of the products to marketing, advertising and promotion, nothing was working. Even though the product was great in taste and affordable, it still could not be sold in Japan.

Japanese Coffee Culture Nestlé
Famous Japanese Coffee Culture

Learning About the Consumer Behaviour

To understand the market and the needs of the consumers, Nestlé in the year 1975 invited the famous French psychoanalyst Clotaire Rapaille to Japan. He was famous for his research on understanding the emotional bonds humans had with objects.

For that purpose, he invited many groups of people from the Japanese community and asked several questions about their childhood and memories when they were younger and connected them with particular products. When he asked people about coffee, they could not relate anything with coffee. There were no answers as far as coffee was concerned.

He understood that Nestlé was not doing anything wrong but the problem was much more deeper. He realised that Coffee is a foreign product to the Japanese people and for that matter he asked Nestlé to start focussing on targeting the children and start manufacturing toffees with coffee flavours.

It was a long term strategy of Nestlé to start manufacturing toffees with coffee flavours. They were during that time an expert of manufacturing toffees in the Western world. This strategy would not only make the kids of Japan familiar with coffee and also can associate their memories with it once they grew older.

This is exactly what happened, Nestlé flooded the market with coffee flavoured toffee and soon became famous within the kids. Seeing the kids, their parents also tried the toffees and they seemed to like the flavour of it.

After following this strategy for sometime, after a decade, Nestlé re-entered the Japanese market with its flagship product and 10 years later, it became an instant hit. By now, all those kids who enjoyed the toffee were working for long hours . They were already consumers of caffeine.

Today, Nestlé is the undisputed market leader in that geography. Japan today imports 500,000 tons of coffee annually. From convenient stores to multinational coffeehouses, coffee is everywhere in Japan. Barely 60 years earlier, it was a market that hardly sold a cup!

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