Caring Confectionery #5: Market Insights With Vegan Gummy Brand Katjes
On the Japanese market for over two decades, Katjes convinced its local partners to adopt their vegan line-up.
Hello, Market Shakers!
To conclude our Caring Confectionery cycle, we have Yvonne Hauf, Director Business Unit International, and Marc Leonhardt, Business Development Manager at Katjes, a licorice and fruit gum confectionery company based in Germany.
The third-largest producer in the German sugar market behind Haribo and Storck, Katjes has been present on the Japanese market for many years. Today still, Katjes is one of the only vegan brands of fruit gummies available in Japan. Therefore, we were very excited to get the opportunity to get some insights!
Before we start, here’s a little more about Katjes.
Katjes is a family-owned sweets business that goes back to 1910. Since its start with delicious and natural licorice treats, Katjes has grown to become one of Germany’s most popular candy brands. The company has always cared to provide better-for-you treats, and they’re using natural flavor and coloring since 1988. Over the years, Katjes transitioned to a brand that does not use animal gelatin. Twenty years ago, the company landed in Japan and has had a long and fruitful experience on the Japanese market since then.
Katjes stands as the plant-based confectionery brand on the market, building a close relationship with their consumers through provocative advertising.
Led by the family’s third generation, Katjes has taken a strong stand as a plant-based confectionery company on the market, both in Germany and abroad. Over the years, the licorice and gummy manufacturer transitioned to become exclusively plant-based. The transition came with a new younger, edgier look and feel of the brand, fitting closely with their target market.
Two years ago, Katjes also debuted in the vegan chocolate category with Chocjes, a chocolate bar made from oat milk instead of cow’s milk. The first two new products — Original and Hazelnut, got a warm welcome from their consumers.
To inaugurate the launch of Chocjes, the company created a provocative advertising campaign that buzzed in Europe and hit the mark with consumers. The animated video commercial was hand-drawn by famous cartoonist Gerald Scarfe and showed cows as being milk machines.
Going big and bold is Katjes’s motto for advertising the brand, its values, and its products. The company’s strong engagement for sustainability and developing environment-friendly products is critical to be as close to Katjes’s consumers as possible.
Commitment and German-made quality carried Katjes success in Japan.
The company’s core market is historically close to Germany, where Katjes is a trendy brand. But the fruity gummy manufacturer naturally expanded first to the Western and Eastern parts of Europe before taking on Northern countries.
The company landed in Japan over two decades ago, focusing on urban areas with specialty stores and imported product stores. When they entered the market, the company’s portfolio had mono fruity flavors perfectly aligned with products on the Japanese market. Quality-sensitive Japanese consumers also trusted the made in Germany label.
Katjes’ natural food flavors and coloring are also an essential part of the brand’s success with Japanese consumers. The look and feel of the brand also work well in Japan. The company sells its products on the Japanese market without localization, beyond the required label translation. A fruitful choice, as the brand’s fun and colorful packaging, with comic-style illustrations, really resonates with Japanese consumers’ love for kawaii culture.
Another key to Katjes’ long success in Japan is the company’s commitment to building long-lasting business relationships with distributors. Their loyalty value is a perfect match for Japanese business culture, where hard-won over time trust is key to enter and stay on the market.
When exporting in a market that has not caught up yet with plant-based nutrition, the challenge is to educate consumers.
When Katjes transitioned to an entirely plant-based gummy company, they couldn’t keep all their products. The mono-flavored fruity ones that did so well on the Japanese market at the beginning had to go. A risk Katjes was committed to making.
Katjes then reintroduced new unique flavors and shapes, but getting consumers’ acceptance took some time. Today, the German company is one of the only plant-based confectionery brands available in Japan. We spotted their products at international and specialized stores and read some social noise on Japanese vegan blogs.
Aside from consumers embracing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, few knew that gummy is made from animal ingredients. Most mainstream consumers we reached out to seemed clueless about plant-based gummies. Instead, their initial reaction was surprise and curiosity. So, for plant-based confectionery companies in general, educating consumers is key to their success in a new market.
In Germany, consumers have a different understanding of the brand. Society cares and loves animals beyond pets, so many consumers purchase Katjes for ethical reasons. In Asia, however, health is the main driver.
Japanese consumers are unaware of what Katjes stands for, partly because they’re not as sensitive to ethical issues and because Katjes has not done much advertisement yet.
Katjes’ business partners in Japan were skeptical about the recipe change but supported their transition.
In general, distributors and retailers are always open to hearing new concepts and innovative products. But going forward with plant-based recipes only, Katjes’ gummies went from a hard to a softer texture.
The Japanese market has not yet embraced the plant-based chocolate trend like in Europe or North America. As a result, the options in retail and e-commerce are limited. We did find a few brands — listed in our Caring Confectionery Shelf Sweep, but they’re not frequently advertised as plant-based products and often available in allergy-free products store aisles.
The Japanese dairy industry is undoubtedly strong and ready for a fight. In our Beyond Milk cycle, we briefly explained that the Japan Dairy Industry Association (JDIA) diminishes the consequences and reality of lactose intolerance and milk allergies. The industry also strongly supports milk being served at school lunches.
At Katjes, everyone believes the plant-based trend won’t be ending any time soon. The future of food is ‘green.’
In Japan, Katjes is listening and analyzing the market feedback to strategize the year to come and what to do next. That’s always how the company has worked across markets — a proven formula. With the plant-based trend here to stay, consumers’ awareness can only grow.
Katjes is one of the first companies in the confectionery segment to become 100% climate-neutral. The company works hard to compensate wherever they can’t reduce or avoid carbon emissions, and Katjes can now claim that its products are carbon neutral.
That’s all, folks!
Our Caring Confectionery cycle has reached its conclusion. Market Shake will stay on course with the plant-based revolution. Starting next week, we will dive into the latest trends and product development for the ice cream, yogurt, and cheese categories.
Made with ❤️ by GourmetPro - Food & Beverage experts in Japan. Reach out for questions and comments!