Thursday, August 5, 2010

All the Flavors Under the Sun

If you’ve ever stepped into a Japanese supermarket or convenience store, you would have noticed the vast display of drinks and confectionery. In fact, some of my favorite souvenir items I like to purchase for friends and family back home are snacks and confectionery. They are not only cheap and delicious, but incredibly varied.

Even a short stay in Japan will make it clear that the Japanese love food and drink. TV here is plastered with shows where people do nothing but eat local cuisines from around the country. It is so big of an industry, that food and drink manufacturers here spend an enormous amount of time and money inventing new product lines.

The beverage industry in Japan is a great example of this. Each year major Japanese beverage companies like Kirin, Suntory, Asahi, Coca-Cola and Pepsi flood convenience store shelves with a huge variety of “seasonal specialties” or limited edition flavored drinks. This year alone we’ve already seen African tea-flavored coke, white coke, green coke, slime coke, coke and orange mix, caffeine-free diet coke. And that’s just coke. There are dozens more flavors and limited edition runs for other beverages too. Many drinks often only sell for a month or so before they are replaced with the new “flavor of the month.”

One reason for such high turnover of product lines is that the industry is extremely competitive. Regular new flavors guarantee a sales spike for the initial period. Food and beverage companies in Japan produce a larger variety of product lines than any other country in the world, sometimes researching new recipes and ideas months or years in advance. Another reason is that the industry has by itself created a collectors market for new and limited edition snacks and beverages. Collectors race to buy these items as soon as they are released. Some items are so limited that they require a waiting list and command a high price.

Consumers in Japan have a busy time keeping up with all the new flavors of drinks and snacks each year. Every flavor under the sun is an expression that accurately sums up Japan’s ever changing convenience store display shelves.

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