Founded in 1923, Tiger Thermos is a long-established Japanese manufacturer of household products that has been popular across generations.
In 2018, the company launched "Maho Nabé", a new product not yet available in Japan, as the spearhead of its European expansion.
We were responsible for the branding of the product, everything from the development stage to retail. The company supports Tiger Thermos in its European expansion. In this blog, we will present an interview with Tiger Makuhari President Kikuchi, conducted at Maison & Objet, the largest convention in France, where the company exhibited for the second time in September, 2019. The interview was conducted by our representative Tadahiro Konoe, who also designed the TIGER booth.
What kind of strategy will Tiger Thermos incorporate to expand its market to Europe?
Konoe：You expanded your market into Europe in 2018, can you give us some background information?
President (Pres.) Kikuchi：Although Tiger thermos have been spreading its popularity across Asia and other countries, because of the public's trust in Japanese products, expanding into Europe has actually been a challenge for many years.
Konoe：Have there been any such opportunities?
Pres. Kikuchi：With our brand strength increasing in Asia, we can now afford to look into Europe. So a couple of years ago, we thought of attacking the obstacle.
Left President Kikuchi, Right Tadahiro Konoe
Konoe：Around the time when I started giving design lectures within Tiger Thermos.
What kind of products did you initially plan to enter Europe with?
Pres. Kikuchi：Tiger Thermos mainly focuses on rice cookers and thermoses, but we didn't want to just roll out existing products. We had a long history of not being well accepted in Europe, so we needed a different approach. Thus, we came up with "Maho Nabé" to capture the public's attention.
「Maho Nabé」key Visual
Konoe：Is "Maho Nabé" based on an existing Tiger Thermos's product?
Pres. Kikuchi：Yes. The "Maho Nabé" was a big hit in Japan for a while and was also sold widely in Asia.
Our aim was to somehow design it so it will be successful in the European market.
Konoe：As a result, you developed a pot with a vacuum structure using your own technology, which has never existed before. It is basically a thermos bottle but in a saucepan form, and I believe it is very innovative and unconventional.
'Maho Nabé' Key Visual.
Birth of the "Maho Nabé"
Konoe：What was your market strategy once the product was developed?
Pres. Kikuchi：At first, we wanted to transmit and expand our message to Europe entirely. However, it is not the best idea to spread our efforts too openly, so we decided to focus on one area first and chose France, the 'country of food'.
Konoe：We feel blessed to be in a position to support the developing process of this product, can you tell us again what was expected of us at the time?
Pres. Kikuchi：It was significant for us to take the right steps to increase the brand recognition. Tiger Thermos has a history of about 100 years, but the brand is only known in Japan and in Asian countries, the Middle East region and some parts of the USA. How to promote the brand in Europe was our biggest challenge. Of course sales and profit are important, but before any of that, the language and history are even more crucial for success. I believe that your company comprehended this point the most. Konoe：Thank you. In fact, the culture of sharing food within a single pan does not exist in Europe. What was your view on launching from France?
Pres. Kikuchi：Creating a brand from scratch is a difficult task. Especially in France, we didn't have enough knowledge nor experience. Furthermore, our biggest obstacle was the language barrier.
Chef Alain Passard
Konoe：Indeed, France is a burdensome market to enter. They are very conscious about food and its beauty, and they seldome jump on the bandwagon. That's why, as the centerpiece of our branding, we recommended Chef Alain Passard, who has maintained three stars for many years, to be our ambassador for "Maho Nabé". He has been in the kitchen at a single restaurant in Paris and is much loved by the French for the way he serves beautiful dishes. After delivering the prototype of "Maho Nabé" to Chef Passard, he contacted me saying, "This is amazing, we can make a revolutionary ratatouille!" We were very impressed with the functionality of the "Maho Nabé" and we were pleased with the response from Chef Passard.
Chef Passard and "Maho Nabé"
Pres. Kikuchi：I knew of Chef Passard as an admired chef, but he was very unique as an individual, and it was a memorable encounter. I am very grateful to have been able to work with him.
Konoe：Certainly, Chef Passard is well-known in Japan as well, but the social status of chefs is incomparably higher in France. Chef Passard is at the pinnacle of the profession. He is very expressive, yet very service-oriented. We had him for two days of cooking demonstrations at this year's MAISON & OBJET, and I feel that the participating press and visitors really enjoyed his cooking.
Members of the press enjoying the 'Maho Nabé' recipe at a table
Pres. Kikuchi：Not only is he a good cook, but he is also distinctive, confident, and lively. There are not many chefs like that in France.
Chef Passard, who kindly signed the TIGER Booth.
(left) Chef Passard being the center of the attention at the M&O
(right) The dessert recipes from 'Maho Nabé' were also very popular.
Year 2 of the expansion to Europe.
Konoe：Chef Passard seemed to have liked this year's booth as it was easy to move around.
President Kikuchi, have you recognized any differences from last year, or any confrontations?
The TIGER Booth is conveniently located in the centre of the venue, at the intersection of the visitor aisles
Three videos were shown at this year's M&O explaining the functions of the 'Maho Nabé' and the history of TIGER.
Pres. Kikuchi：Last year, we were new to everything thus we were taking a wait-and-see approach. This year, we have gained a bit more recognition in France. It takes time for people to get familiar with something or someone. Of course, Maison & Objet is not the only way to spread our name, so we would like to continue experimenting with different advertising methods, using various media. Also, once we have gained brand awareness and understanding of the product functions in France, we would like to then expand to the surrounding European countries. Konoe：How about interviewing merchandiser professionals?
Pres. Kikuchi：Right. It is important to get professional opinions, including from 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 the role of the entire promotion. The other half is how we use that information to create strategies and put it into action.
'Maho Nabé' also displayed in a specially selected section supervised by future forecasting expert François Delclaux.
Konoe：By the way, "Maho Nabé" is now in its second year - what is your long term vision of the brand and or the product?
Pres. Kikuchi：As you may know, we cannot compete with foreign products from China and other countries on the basis of cost. What is important is how much value we can add as a "Made in Japan" product. Looking back, I think we took the accurate steps with "Maho Nabé", but in the following years, we have to get people to actually purchase the product, and spread the word.
Used by French influencers
We also believe that if we can continue to offer world-first products such as the "Maho Nabé" in Europe, we can build our own brand as the Japanese Tiger Thermos. If we produce and sell the same products as other companies, we will not be able to generate our own style.
Konoe：Can you tell us about the foresight you have for your 'new product that represents Tiger Thermos'?
Pres. Kikuchi：Yes, we hope to promote products that do not use electricity, just like the "Maho Nabé", which has the technology of vacuum insulation, hot and cold retention, or other technologies that enable eco-proposals.
Konoe：Let's make it happen! Finally, what do you hope to see in the future in terms of European expansion?
Pres. Kikuchi：Eventually, we must figure out how we are going to sell our products in concrete terms, i.e. abacus accounts. It is preferable to not only develop adequate products, but make our customers want to share. As Tiger Thermos, we are also thinking of continuing our business accompanied by maintenance services. Konoe：We hope to continue supporting you with your branding for your European expansion. Thank you for taking your time to meet with me today.