“we seek to differentiate ourselves from domestic products”

THE SWEETEST LIFE

Vidal Candies begins offering its tasty treats in Japan

 


APRIL 2021 Investing in Japan / Text by Toby Waters / Photos by Benjamin Parks


It’s easy to indulge your sweet tooth in Japan, but it can be hard to choose how you do it. The sheer range of confectionary treats on offer — even just at the convenience store — makes it difficult for established brands to stand out, let alone new market entrants. Vidal Candies, however, has made rapid headway into the market by catching eyes as successfully as it satisfies cravings.

Eye candy

Founded in Molina de Segura, Spain, in 1963, the family-owned Vidal Candies has become one of the biggest names in confectionary in Europe. It sells its products in over 90 countries, with 14 subsidiaries around the world. It makes a wide variety of products, including chewy caramels, bubble gum, liquorice, lollipops, hard candies, and marshmallows. But its most popular are its jelly candies, more commonly known as gummies in Japan. Vidal is the creator of the iconic Jelly Filled Strawberries, which, on their release in 1998, were the world’s first filled jellies.

“Continuous improvements in our machinery and increasing investment in resources — as well as in research and development — have turned Vidal Candies into an innovator in developing new products, packaging, and design,” Joaquín Vigueras, managing director of Vidal Candies, told Eurobiz Japan. “Our production capacity of more than 75 million units per day makes us the biggest domestic manufacturer in our sector. Vidal today reaches more than 350,000 points of sale in Spain.”

The brand entered Asia in 2017, when it opened a branch in South Korea, before expanding to create a Tokyo office in 2019. Despite Vidal’s decades of success in diverse markets across the globe, a distinctive strategy was needed to break into the Japan market, according to Ryuji Iwanaga, country manager of Vidal Candies Japan.

“Japan is one of the biggest gummy markets in the world to compete in. Local Japanese gummy makers dominate the market, and Japanese products are known for combining high quality with reasonable prices,” Iwanaga explains. “Local companies already sell many types of fruit flavour gummies — and this segment is growing due to the trend for premium and functional gummies — so we can’t compete solely on this front. Instead, we seek to differentiate ourselves from domestic products. Vidal’s pillars are quality, innovation, and internationalisation.”

After considering the many confections that the company produces, Iwanaga together with headquarters in Spain decided to launch Vidal in Japan with gummies that distinguish themselves by their unique shapes — such as teeth, brains, bloody eyes, fried eggs, and worms — and were certain to attract attention. These were initially sold in 100g bags.

The positive reception these sweets received encouraged Vidal to expand its product line here in 2020, and it began selling Dino Jelly and Ocean Jelly, individually wrapped gummies shaped like dinosaurs and sea creatures.

“Feedback has been good. Both consumers and our trade customers think that our products are unique,” Iwanaga says. “With their individual wrappings, the dinosaur and sea creature gummies, in particular, are both fun and easy to share.”

Building brand awareness

Since Vidal does not have a manufacturing base in Japan, its connections with business partners and trade customers are essential. In addition to the challenges of getting its products on shelves here, it has the extra hurdle, and cost, of having to ship them from Spain to Japan.

“Most new imported brands find it difficult to make their brand take off in Japan,” Iwanaga says. “We need to work with importers and a network of wholesalers and retailers, who are key to having the right route-to-market strategy in Japan. Also, they help us respect consumer and trade requirements in a fragmented market, as we deliver a constant flow of innovative products.”

One important way Vidal connects with retailers, wholesalers, and importers, is by having a presence at the annual international food and drink exhibition, Foodex Japan. The firm has joined the Spanish pavilion every year since 2017.

“Foodex is one of Asia’s largest international food and beverage exhibitions, and we consider it to be the right venue to increase Vidal’s brand awareness in the Japan market,” says Vigueras. “Every year Vidal’s main customers from South Korea and Japan visit us there, and it helps us to both build long-term relationships and present Vidal’s novelties.”

Taking part in events such as Foodex has been especially important for Vidal during the Covid-19 pandemic, as opportunities to attract partners through face-to-face meetings or to introduce consumers to its products have dropped dramatically.

Vidal is also preparing to launch a social media campaign in Japan to promote its gummies — including its newest gummies.

Delicious and nutritious

After the success of its visually distinct gummies, Vidal decided to celebrate its third year of operation in Japan by creating an original gummy for the market, made specially to cater to Japanese consumers.

Sweet Tooth Jelly, which will be in Japanese shops later this year, has had its flavour profile tailored to appeal to Japanese children. It will initially be available in grape and peach, with green apple and strawberry coming after. But this new gummy sets itself apart from the competition by emphasising good dental health as well as taste.

“This new product is sugar-free and doesn’t cause cavities. It’s been scientifically tested and approved by Toothfriendly International, certifying that it has a pH level above 5.7,” Iwanaga says. “Japanese people pay close attention to the health of their teeth, but they also love gummies, especially kids. There are other sugar-free products on the market, but this gummy does a great job of differentiating itself from other gummies.”

Sweet Tooth Jelly is also made without artificial colouring, contains vitamin E, and has been designated in Japan as a Food with Nutrient Function Claims. Though the gummy has been designed for the sweets-loving but health-conscious Japan market, if it does well, the company plans to release it in other markets in the future.

Vidal sees success here as being the first step to further expansion in the region.

“We know that if we want to be successful in Asia, we will need to be successful in Japan,” Vigueras says.

“We will continue to develop new, innovative products to give more and more people the opportunity to enjoy Vidal sweets,” notes Iwanaga. “We want all our customers to understand the meaning of our company motto, The Sweetest Life.”•

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