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Calbee back in full swing as potato supplies recover in Japan

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Gill Hyslop

By Gill Hyslop+

13-Sep-2017

Calbee has resumed normal operations following disrupted potato chip production, and is launch range of new flavors denoting a speciality dish from each of Japan's 47 prefectures. Pic: Calbee
Calbee has resumed normal operations following disrupted potato chip production, and is launch range of new flavors denoting a speciality dish from each of Japan's 47 prefectures. Pic: Calbee

Japanese snack giant Calbee’s operations have returned to normal, following a potato shortage that disrupted the production of 15 its potato chip brands.

It has launched new flavors after benefitting from a disease-resistant potato that has increased Japanese potato production.

The ¥507.9bn ($4.56bn) company used the ‘downtime’ to develop new snack products and diversify its sources of raw materials.

Calbee spokesperson Kazuka Nohara told BakeryandSnacks the company has transformed some of its rice paddies in the Iwate, Miyagi and Kumamoto prefectures into potato fields in order to avoid another potato shortage.

Hokkaido – Japan’s northernmost island that produces 80% of the country’s potatoes – was hit by four typhoons last year, severely damaging agriculture and reducing potato production by 10% year-on-year to 1.72m tons in 2016.

New potato variety and snacks

Calbee has also been developing a disease-resistant potato variety called Poroshiri, which it will use for its snacks, said Nohara.

Starting this month, the company is launching a range of potato chips in flavors reflecting the local speciality of each of Japan’s 47 prefectures, priced at ¥120 ($1.09) per pack.

For example, the chips denoting the Kyoto prefecture combines the flavor of Uji green tea (which has been produced in the area for 800 years) with the region’s love for the fragrant Japanese pepper.

Chips representing the Okayama prefecture have been flavoured with miso, soy and garlic to denote Tsuyama hormone udon, a local specialty of Tsuyama City.

The main cuisine of the residents living in the Nagasaki prefecture is fish, and Calbee’s potato chips are flavored with chidashi, a stock made from flying fish.

White shrimps are widely available in Japan’s waters, but Toyama Bay in the Toyama prefecture is particularly noted for its large hauls of the translucent sea creatures.

Calbee has also launched a website to market the new flavors, aimed to cultivate loyalty to the local foods, said Nohara.

Calbee Foods – established in 1949 – is Japan’s leading snack producer commanding a 15% share of the country’s savory snack market and a 48% share of the potato chips market in 2016, according to Euromonitor.

Calbee’s Kata-age Potato and Shiawase Butter Calbee Potato Chips are particularly popular among adult consumers who enjoy snacks to accompany their alcoholic drinks.

Euromonitor forecasts the company’s puffed snack brand, Jagarico, will continue to lead the puffed snacks category, having commanded a 14% value share in 2016.

Japan’s savoury snacks market is expected grow at a CAGR of 1% to reach ¥1.4 trillion in 2021.

Following suit

Calbee’s main rival Koike-Ya – which produces the Kara Mucho and Koikeya Potato Chip brands – is also recommencing sales of its snacks this month, intensifying competition between the two major snack makers

Additionally, Koike-Ya is introducing a new brand of chips made from a rare variety of potato produced in the town of Imakane, Hokkaido, in limited quantities at around ¥322 ($2.92) per pack.

The company also plans to launch new products targeting adults.

According to Koike-Ya president Akira Sato, the company wants to “create a premium market” for potato chips.

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