The '0% fat' Yakult probiotic drink has been available for sale in Denmark since January 21. The firm aims to sell a daily average of 1,040 bottles throughout this year. Asked the reasons for venturing into Denmark, Hideki Maruyama from Yakult Honsha's public relations department said the decision was made after researching new markets.
"Guided by our corporate philosophy of 'contributing to the health and happiness of people around the world', and with the aim of continually expanding our business in Europe, Yakult Honsha and Yakult Europe researched possible new countries for entry.
“As a result, we carried out and recently completed preparations for sales in Denmark, launching Yakult in the country on January 21st,” Hideki said.
Before entering Denmark, Yakult was already available in 12 European countries, including the UK, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. In total, there are six sales and marketing companies selling Yakult products in Europe.
Hideki revealed that out of all the European markets, Yakult was most popular in the UK.
He attributed the success to higher brand awareness and greater understanding of lactic acid bacteria.
“While Yakult UK's performance could be attributed to various reasons, we believe it is owed to the Yakult brand reaching more and more people as a result of activities to broaden understanding of the functions of lactic acid bacteria carried out since starting operations in 1996.
“This also includes recent advertising campaigns that are linked to and conducted in parallel with science, PR, and other corporate activities.”
In January to September last year, an average of 201,000 bottles of Yakult were sold in the UK. This followed by the Netherlands, where the average daily sales is 170,000 bottles, and Italy at 98,000 bottles.
Yakult is coming out with solutions, such as strengthening brand awareness, to overcome regulatory obstacles present in the Europe.
The main challenge is that the term “probiotics” is not allowed for use in Europe’s health food market, whereas in its home market, Japan, companies are allowed to use the term “probiotic” and make health claims for these products.
Hideki said that this was also the reason why a wide variety of probiotic products exist in the Japanese market, with each promoting different functional benefits.
Some of the products are even approved to be registered as Foods for Specified Health Uses.
However, since the term “probiotics” is not allowed in Europe, “the market situations in Japan and Europe are thus very different.”
To overcome this regulatory obstacle, Hideki said Yakult is working to raise its brand awareness, and expand the business by “conducting scientific, public relations, and advertising activities that focus on broadening the understanding of the functions of lactic acid bacteria.”
Despite strict regulations and a difficult sales environment in Europe, the company said in a financial report dated September 2018 that the consolidated net sales in the food and beverages (Europe) segment rose 11.3% from the same period of the previous year to JYP$4,541m (US$41m).