Japan has a reputation for food innovation, and a new initiative by Nestlé will transform one of its iconic chocolate bars into currency for train travel while at the same time promoting a crisis-hit part of the country.
Train travellers in northern Japan can use KitKat as train tickets as part of a scheme to rejuvenate tourism after the region devastated by an earthquake and tsunami three years ago.
It is the first time a Japanese rail company has allowed chocolate bar packaging to be used as a valid travel pass.
People using the Sanriku Railway network, which is now up and running again after three years of reconstruction work, can buy the special packs of KitKat at a lower price than a standard ticket.
The KitKat train ticket is the latest in a series of steps taken by the brand to support the Sanriku Railway in its reconstruction efforts.
In Japan, it is common for people to give KitKat to each other as a message of good luck, because the brand’s name is similar to the Japanese phrase “Kitto-Katsu”, which translates as “you will surely win”.
In 2011, after the tsunami destroyed large areas of the Sanriku region, including the railway network, Nestlé learnt that the reconstruction team working on the railway had received KitKat products as a form of encouragement.
KitKat then started working with the Sanriku railway, donating ¥20 (US$0.20) per bar to the rebuilding project.
It also decorated two trains and two train stations with paintings of cherry blossoms—symbols of hope in Japanese culture.
The confectionery train tickets launch in Japan this month and will be valid on trains until May next year.
Year of ideas
This is not the first time for Nestlé Japan to find a novel approach to market its KitKat bars. Earlier this year, the company developed a new mini KitKat that can be eaten either as a chocolate bar or a baked product.
Working with Japanese chocolatier Takagi, Nestlé developed the baked KitKat in March in two varieties: mini original chocolate and mini pudding. When put in the oven for two minutes, the bar resembles a crispy cookie.
And in January, Nestlé opened its first ever KitKat boutique inside the Seibu department store in Tokyo. The so-called “Chocolatory” stocks exclusive varieties of the chocolate bar, including three special varieties: Sublime Bitter, Special Sakura Green Tea and Special Chilli.
“KitKat is close to being a cult product in Japan, and it is a very special market for us,” said the bar’s global brand manager, Stewart Dryburgh.
Globally, 650 KitKat fingers are consumed every second worldwide and in Japan the brand has been the country’s favourite chocolate since 2012.
Its success has been fuelled by the launch of hundreds of unusual and innovative special edition flavours to meet Japanese consumers’ experimental tastes and sense of style.
Consumers in the country have been able to choose from varieties including Purple Potato, Cinnamon Cookie, European Cheese, Bean Cake and Wasabi, with sticks of pale green, delicate pink and lilac chocolate that look and taste very different from those anywhere else in the world.
These varieties are available only in certain regions of Japan, using ingredients and flavours linked to the local area. KitKat Kobe Pudding, for example, has a creamy custard pudding flavour, with a hint of citrus and is only available in Kobe, in the south of the country.