Founded in 1923, Tiger Vacuum Flask is a long-established Japanese manufacturer of household goods that has been loved by generations.
"In 2018, the company launched Maho Nabé, a new product not yet available in Japan, as the spearhead of its European expansion.
curioswitch is responsible for the branding of the product, from the development stage to retail. We are supporting Tiger Vacuum Flask's expansion into Europe. In this issue, we bring you an interview with President Kikuchi of Tiger Vacuum Bottles conducted at Maison & Objet, the largest convention in France, where the company exhibited for the second time in September 2019. This interview was conducted at Maison & Objet, the largest convention in France.
What is the European strategy project of a well-established manufacturer?
Konoe: You expanded into Europe in 2018, can you tell us about the background?
Mr. Kikuchi: Tiger Vacuum Flask has been expanding its business in Asia and other countries thanks to the trust in Japanese products, but expanding into Europe has been a longstanding issue.
Konoe: Was there a good opportunity to do so?
President Kikuchi: As our brand power in Asia increased, we could afford to look at Europe. It was a couple of years ago that we decided to take on this challenge internally.
左 タイガー魔法瓶 菊池社長 右 curioswitch 近衞
Konoe: It was around the time when I started giving lectures on design at Tiger Vacuum Bottles.
What kind of products did you have in mind to enter Europe at first?
Mr. Kikuchi：Tiger thermos bottles produce rice cookers, vacuum flasks, and other products, but we didn't want to develop our existing products as they were. We have a long history of difficulty in gaining acceptance in Europe, so we needed a different approach. Maho Nabé" was what we came up with to capture the market.
「Maho Nabé」key Visual
Konoe: Is the origin of "Maho Nabé" from the existing product "Mahonabe" (a product in which a small pot that has been cooked is placed inside a special heat-retention container with a lid to keep it warm) of Tiger thermos?
Mr. Kikuchi: Yes. "Mahonabe" had a boom in Japan for a while, and was also sold in Asia.
We wanted to fully tune it so that it would be accepted in Europe.
Konoe: As a result, you developed a pot with a vacuum structure, which had never existed before, using your own technology. The concept is like a thermos bottle turned into a pot, but I thought it was an amazing Columbus' egg-like idea and jump.
「Maho Nabé」の断面図とKey Visual
Konoe: What was your market strategy after you developed the product?
Mr.Kikuchi: In the beginning, we were thinking of expanding the product by sending it out to the whole of Europe. However, it was not a good idea to spread our efforts too thinly, so we decided to focus on one area first, and chose France, the "land of food culture.
Konoe: You have been helping curioswitch from the product development stage, but can you tell us again what was expected of us at that time?
Mr. Kikuchi: We knew that we had to take the right steps to make the brand known. Tiger vacuum flask has a history of about 100 years, but the brand is known only in Japan and other Asian countries, the Middle East, and some parts of the United States. How to advance the branding in Europe was the biggest theme. Sales are important, but before abacus and arithmetic, we thought that Japanese language and history are important first.
Konoe: Thank you very much. In fact, there are very few food cultures in Europe where one pot is placed on the table and food is shared by everyone. Based on this, curioswitch recommended a French strategy and proposed the brand name "Maho Nabé" in French.
President Kikuchi: It is a difficult job to create a brand from scratch. Especially in France, we did not have enough knowledge and experience on our own, and we were worried about the language aspect.
Konoe: Indeed, France is a difficult market. They are highly conscious about beauty and food, and they don't really jump on the bandwagon. So, as the centerpiece of our branding, we recommended that Alain Passard, a charismatic chef who has maintained three stars for many years, be the ambassador of Maho Nabé. He works in the kitchen of only one restaurant in Paris, and is loved by the French for his attitude of serving beautiful food and making guests smile with his table talk. "After I delivered the prototype of Maho Nabé to Mr. Passard, he contacted me and said, "This is great, you can make a new ratatouille! He contacted me. Mr. Passard praised the function of Maho Nabé, and we felt that we had a good response.
Mr. Kikuchi: I knew Mr. Passard as a famous chef, but he is a very unique person, and it was a memorable encounter. He is an artist and has a difficult side, so I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with him.
Konoe: It is true that Mr. Passard is famous in Japan, but the social status of chefs in France is much higher than in Japan, and Mr. Passard is at the top of the list. He is very expressive, and at the same time, he is very service-minded. At this year's MAISON&OBJET, he gave cooking demonstrations over two days, and I felt that the press and visitors who attended truly enjoyed the event.
Mr. Kikuchi: Not only is he a good cook, but he is also unique, flamboyant, and able to interact with many people. I think there are not many chefs like that in France.
Konoe: Mr. Passard seemed to like the booth this year as it was easy to move around. President Kikuchi, did you notice any differences from last year or any challenges?
Mr. Kikuchi: Last year was still the first time for us to do anything, so we were just trying to see how things would go. This year, I think we have gained a little recognition in France. It takes time for people to get to know you. Of course, "Maison & Objet" is not the only way, so we would like to continue to experiment with various advertising methods using various media. Also, once we have deepened our brand recognition and understanding of the product functions in France, we would like to expand to the surrounding European countries.
Konoe: How about interviewing merchandiser professionals?
Mr. Kikuchi: That's right. It is important to listen to the opinions of professionals, including those of department stores. Information such as, "We have this kind of relationship with our customers, the current trend is this, and this is what is selling," is very valuable, and that is about half of the role of the entire promotion. The other half is how we create strategies and take action based on this information.
未来予測のエキスパート François Delclaux監修の特選コーナーにも展示された「Maho Nabé」
Konoe: Now that Maho Nabé has entered its second year, what kind of presence do you want to have as a brand in the future and in what way do you want people to recognize it?
President Kikuchi: As you know, we cannot compete with foreign products from China and other countries on cost. The important thing is how much value we can add as a "Made in Japan" company. In retrospect, I think the procedure was right for Maho Nabé, but in the second and third years, we need to get people to actually buy and use the product, and then spread it by word of mouth.
If we can continue to offer world-first products like "Maho Nabé" in Europe, we will be able to build our own brand as Japan's Tiger Vacuum Bottles. If we produce and sell the same products as other companies, we will not be able to create the "Tiger Vacuum Bottles" identity.
Konoe: Could you tell us what kind of image Mr. Kikuchi has of "new products that are unique to Tiger Vacuum Bottles"? If you don't mind me asking.
President Kikuchi: Well, I would like to promote branding of products that do not use electricity, such as the Maho Nabé, by starting from the category of products that have vacuum insulation technology, heat retention technology or technology that enables eco-proposals.
Konoe: Let's make it happen! Lastly, what are your expectations for the future in terms of European expansion?
Mr.Kikuchi: There will come a time when we need to figure out how to specifically sell our products, in other words, we need to make an abacus account. It would be great if we could not only develop good products, but also have people buy and use them, understand their merits, and promote them to their acquaintances. We at Tiger Vacuum Bottles are also thinking of continuing our business with maintenance services.
Konoe: I hope that curioswitch will continue to help with the branding of our products in Europe. Thank you very much for your time.