Know Your Market

The other day a marketing director of a U.S. nutrition company called me. After he described his company and offered a brief description of their products, he asked me if their products would be marketable in Japan.

I get this kind of inquiry a lot. This kind question does not have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

I asked him some basic questions regarding the Japanese nutrition market.

Is the product lawful to market in Japan as a dietary supplement?

“I don’t know,” he answered.

Do you have any idea of the size of Japanese nutrition market and the size and general trend of the market you are targeting?

“I don’t know; I have no clue,” he said.

I asked him more questions about not only the Japanese nutrition market but also about his knowledge of the country with which he is attempting to start a business relationship. I also asked him if they have a good scientific study of their products or if they have patent and trademark protection and the sales figures for their product lines last year?

The conclusion I came to was that he knew his business very well on his own turf, but had very little knowledge of the Japanese nutrition market or the country itself. Perhaps he never had a chance to visit the country; maybe he’s never met a Japanese person before. He is not alone.

To Succeed, Learn Their Art First.

I saw The Last Samurai the other day. In the movie, Captain Algren, played by Tom Cruise, is captured and faces execution. However, he survives by learning the way of the samurai. Many people not only in this business, but in many others too, argue that getting into the Japanese market is not an easy task. They say it’s very costly and some even describe it as impossible. The Japanese nutrition market is vibrant and consumers are demanding and knowledgeable about health. Good products and well-managed prices alone are not enough to succeed in Japan.

I think people who believe success in the Japanese market is difficult didn’t study their target market enough. Non-Japanese companies who succeeded in Japan learned about the people and the art of business in Japan first.

How does one get to know the Japanese people and their art of business?

Buy a plane ticket and spend some time there - perhaps sometime between March and June, when many health exhibitions and conferences will be held there.

Wishing you a peaceful and joyful holiday season.

I’ll talk about more about the current nutraceutical environment in the next issue.

Stay tuned.

Paul Yamaguchi is president of Paul Yamaguchi & Associates, Inc., Tarrytown, NY.

His company publishes a number of Japanese nutrition market reports, including Nutraceutical Japan 2003, Nutritional Supplement Japan 2003, Functional Foods and FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Use) Japan 2003. For details and information on the reports, visit: or contact Paul at [email protected]

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