Why has one of the most basic chocolate bars– surely never a first choice by anyone nipping to the newsagents here in the UK – become one of the most popular in Japan?
Well, it had a lot to do with coincidence.
‘Kit Kat’ just happened to sound like the Japanese expression Kitto Katsu, which translates to “You will surely win”. So, people started to give them as presents or good luck gifts. Nestlé noticed sales in Japan would often rise in January, as customers bought the candy as good luck presents for students sitting university entrance exams.
So, Nestle indulged the market, and brought out more ‘special editions’ using different flavours. Sales exploded. The humble Kit Kat, thanks to the Japanese market, is ranked No.1 in the world for Nestle’s sales and profits.
The Kit Kat was first introduced in Japan in 1973 and 27 years later it introduced strawberry, it’s first non-chocolate flavour…. which just happened to be strawberry season. Another ker-ching!
The coincidences kept coming and kept boosting sales.
Since then, it’s introduced an incredible 350 flavours including soy sauce, sake, wasabi and cough drop. But it’s the ‘European Cheese Kit Kat’ that made me wonder if they’d gone too far – chocolate mixed with cheese? Cheese smells and is savoury right? Mixing cheese with chocolate is wrong! No thanks, I’m gouda!
But those clever confectioners at Nestle have even adapted the humble Kit Kat using seasonal flavours – for example, the Sakura (cherry blossom) in the springtime. Plus, if you head to different regions in Japan, you can buy particular flavours that reflect that area.
So, in the Tohoku region there’s a local dish made with mashed edamame called zunda, which has been incorporated into the chocolate bar. In Kanto, the Tokyo banana has been used, and there’s a citrus blend of Kit Kat in Shikoku that uses a combination of lemon, orange, and sudachi (a local fruit similar to lime).
Could the UK follow suit? Haggis, black-pudding or jellied eel Kit Kats anyone?
I’m not so sure. We’ll stick to our traditional method of deep-frying our choc. Thank you very much!
But for Japan, there is quite literally a flavour to suit everyone’s taste – and by adapting to the culture, Nestle have seamlessly transferred the simple Kit Kat the global chocolate brand, giving the finger to everyone else.