Creating a Healthy and Plentiful Life Through Our Commitment to Traditional Food
With higher levels of health consciousness, Japanese tea is now a food product that attracts attention from all around the world. In particular, there is a very high demand for matcha, which is used in food and drink, with Japanese exports continuing to expand.
Yamasan Co., Ltd. is one Japanese company that has responded proactively to the high overseas demand for matcha.
As a wholesale food retailer with its head office in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture, the company has been putting effort into sales of Uji-brand matcha, which boasts a high degree of name recognition.
After all, the company is resolute in its desire to deal in food products that are reliable, safe, and delicious.
We want more people to know about safe and delicious traditional Japanese food
Yamasan was founded in 1993 as a door-to-door company trading in kimono.
With the Great Hanshin Earthquake that struck in 1995, however, sales of kimono, which are a luxury item, declined sharply and the company used an opportunity to pivot its sales to miso-focused food items. Even though these products were rather different, Yamasan was open to trying new enterprises, and its door-to-door sales of high-quality products remains unchanged.
Since it began its sale of miso, the company has remained committed to selling products consisting of traditional Japanese foods and raw materials that are free of additives and chemicals.
"My father, who was the founder of the company, was born and raised in Miyama-cho (now Nantan) in Kyoto Prefecture. This area had a surprisingly rich natural environment. The flip side of that was that he had a hard time visiting the supermarket. To make up for it, Miyama-cho produced large quantities of crops and also had a rich supply of locally processed foods.
My father is still a healthy man thanks to being raised in an environment so rich in nature, and he believes that traditional Japanese foods which are rooted in this environment have the power to support human health. He was also particular about the production area, farmers, and raw materials connected with the products that he traded in."
These were the words of Mr. Teppei Ohata, Senior Managing Director of Yamasan Co., Ltd. As the man who has taken over Yamasan, he has worked to create an environment in which his employees can grow and has actively utilizes the opinions of his staff in new ventures.
Making use of our connections, we can develop products because of who we are
As sales volumes gradually increased the company switched from door-to-door sales to mail-order sales. Meanwhile, Yamasan also opened an antenna shop, Chaganju Cafe, where it began direct sales of its own original and selected "safe and delicious" products.
As an expression of confidence in its products, Yamasan continues to offer food and drink tastings of most items in the store. The company is also involved in developing products and has evolved into a wholesale retailer that also has elements of a manufacturer.
"There are many wonderful foods in Japan that we have wanted to tell more people about, and doing so wouldn't be meaningful if our products didn't reflect who we are at Yamasan.
Looking back over our company history, the keywords that emerged were “ingredients that offer peace of mind;” “fermentation,” which is familiar to us as we handle miso and soy sauce; and also “Uji,” which is our home base.” (Mr. Ohata)
Combining these concepts, the company has been selling fermented green tea since January 2018. Japanese-grown organic tea leaves are fermented using kurokoji mold to create the tea, which has come to be loved by many, especially women in their 40s, who are very concerned with health and beauty.
"This is a product that we developed over three to four months based on the opinions of the staff. While creating this product, we realized that we are always engaged in ‘business that connects.’” We connect producers and customers, and as wholesalers, we connect company A with company B. We were reminded that our product development has been possible due to the connections that we have built thus far and that we are able to run our business because of these connections.” (Mr. Ohata)
Mr. Ohata went on to explain that the company has now started to export overseas, but its essence as a "business that connects" Japan with overseas buyers will not change. It was Yamasan’s experience of how tourists would make purchases at the antenna shop mentioned above which prompted it to turn its attention overseas.
Comprehensive customer service and attention to detail, undertaking all the steps involved, right up to sales
“At Chaganju Cafe, we repeatedly had international customers come and then leave without buying anything. After doing some sightseeing, they would drop by once again and then make a purchase. This trend caught our attention, and when we inquired why they came back to us, they explained that it was because the other stores had no organic products." (Mr. Ohata)
This means that there is a match between the demand from international customers particular about organic produce and a product's region of origin, and Yamasan’s desire to offer food products that are reliable, safe, and delicious, like placing workers in our factories who are licensed to subdivide JAS-certified-organic products, as the repackaging of organic foods is governed by strict quality control standards laid out in Japan's organic JAS Law.
On top of this, international tourists who visited Chaganju Cafe and purchased items would write to the store after returning home saying that they would like for products to be sent to them. Such occurrences made the company start to think that there may be a demand overseas for delicious and reliable food products. In 2014, Mr. Ohata began using Alibaba.
Mr. Ikuo Imamura serves as advisor in the overseas business division and moved into this new position by making use of his overseas experience and 40-year career with a major electronics manufacturer. He is currently in charge of customer care on Alibaba.
"Currently, 95% of the traffic we get is inquiries about OEM. There are a number of steps to go through before one can manufacture and sell products. For example, when someone wants to sell their own brand of matcha, there are many things that must be decided, including the kind of tea to choose, what grade it is, what kind of container it will be packaged in, how you want to design the package, and so on.” (Mr. Imamura)
Our company’s strength is our capacity to support the client, undertaking all the steps involved, right up to sales.
"We send the client samples because the tea leaves can be easily examined on the spot and these samples communicate how a type of tea leaf corresponds with its selling price. If the customer so requests, we can also do in-house package design. We are able to take care of all the steps from manufacturing to sales, so there are no intermediary costs, even though we may be handling a lot of steps. Time loss is significantly reduced when compared to a situation where different companies handle each of the processes.” (Mr. Imamura).
What's more, we offer a very detailed level of support for all this. As the prototype is nearing completion, Mr. Imamura shoots a video of it and sends it to the client. Not only is the client able to make a clear assessment of the state of the product, thereby preventing problems from occurring after mass production, but there is no doubt that the client will also gain a higher level of trust in our company.
With Uji matcha as our launchpad, we hope to get more Japanese traditional foods overseas
We also spoke to Ms. Gotei Li, who works under Mr. Imamaura as a contact for overseas buyers.
“At present, we deal with 62 companies in 21 countries. The country with the highest trading volume and contract rate is the US. Developed countries such as the US now demand high product quality, due to their higher levels of health consciousness, and they are particularly concerned about whether a product is organic or not. We would actually like to be selling more varieties of Japanese tea, rather than just matcha. The market is going to open up soon. Taking advantage of the brand power of Uji, Kyoto, we would like to be selling new Japanese teas over matcha and the miso/soy sauces that our company typically deals in.”
Yamasan also has a dream to one day be able to grow tea in Uji.
"In actuality, Uji has tea farmers that are going out of business. High-quality first-harvest tea is frequently used due to the booming matcha market, while the cheaply priced fourth-harvest tea goes into bottled tea products. Meanwhile, the second- and third-harvest teas, which are in between high-end and low-end teas, do not get sold, and we have an increasing number of cases where farmers are abandoning their cultivation.
We have a business because we are meticulous producers. We also want to look at growing organic tea ourselves, partly in order to protect the local industry in Uji.” (Managing Director Teppei Ohata)
Yamasan has a management philosophy of "creating a rich lifestyle through a commitment to delicious traditional foods.”
People’s values change when they enjoy Japan’s traditional foods. Yamasan will continue to grow as a company in order to increase the number of consumers who feel the richness in their daily lives.