Natural Foods Merchandiser

Country Life, Kikkoman form joint venture

What do you get when you cross an American natural products company with a 300-year-old Japanese soy sauce manufacturer?

Executives at Country Life Vitamins and Kikkoman hope to find out after forming a joint venture that will give Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Country Life a distribution partner in Asia and Europe, and will allow Noda, Japan-based Kikkoman to connect with naturals retailers in North America.

?There?s a huge market for natural products in Asia,? said Country Life Vice President Jodi Drexler-Billet. ?If you?re not there and engaged in it, and have a good partner, it?s tough.?

Besides its soy sauce products, Kikkoman produces and sells in Japan a line of flavored and fortified soymilks that include green tea- and fruit-flavored varieties. It also distributes the Dynasty brand of Asian ingredients around the world and markets Del Monte products in Asia.

Country Life will take advantage of Kikkoman?s research and development labs, whose projects include food engineering, enzymology and development of antioxidants from grape seeds and fermented soybeans. ?They have an unbelievable R&D department,? Drexler-Billet said. ?I want to work with them on doing studies for supplements.?

Country Life?s first export to Japan will be its Desert Essence line of tea tree oil-based products, Drexler-Billet said. Japanese women are a good market for upscale skin and body care made with natural ingredients, and ?they love American products,? she said.

Other possibilities include the Max and Maxine multivitamins, Biochem Therapeutics products that address diabetes and glycemic factors, and products tailored to senior citizens and others in Japan who are vulnerable to specific health concerns.

Both Country Life and Kikkoman remain family-owned and have a similar commitment to health-enhancing products, Drexler-Billet said.

Retailers can expect to see Kikkoman use Country Life?s relationships with the naturals channel. ?We?re going to help them work out a whole program,? she said.

The Hain Celestial Group also took steps this spring to enter the Asian market, making what Chief Executive Irwin Simon referred to as a preliminary agreement ?to pursue joint interests in food marketing and product development? with Yeo Hiap Seng Ltd., a Singapore food and drink company.

?Today we do not sell into the Asian market,? Simon said during an analyst call May 4. ?We want to use their infrastructure to get into the Asian market.?

Yeo?s food products include sauces, packaged noodles, canned curries and Kaya, an egg-coconut mixture that Singaporeans spread on their breakfast toast. Yeo also sells soy drinks, juices and teas. In addition, the company trades in ingredients, including coconut products and tropical oils.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 6/p. 13

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