When it comes to candy bars, few are as iconic and recognizable as the Kit Kat. The chocolate-covered wafer treat is beloved around the world, but in Japan, it has achieved a level of popularity and cultural significance that is unmatched anywhere else. In this blog post, we'll explore the history of Kit Kats in Japan, from their introduction to the country in the 1970s to the unique flavors and marketing strategies that have made them a cultural phenomenon.
The first Kit Kats in Japan were introduced in 1973 by the Japanese arm of the Swiss food and beverage company Nestle. At the time, chocolate was still a relatively new and exotic treat in Japan, and Kit Kats were positioned as a luxury item. They were sold in high-end department stores and were often given as gifts. In fact, the name "Kit Kat" itself was chosen in part because it sounds similar to the Japanese phrase "kitto katsu," which roughly translates to "surely win" and is a common expression of good luck. In the early years, Kit Kats were only available in one flavor: milk chocolate. However, even this relatively plain offering was seen as a novelty by Japanese consumers, who were fascinated by the unique shape and texture of the candy bar. The thin, crispy layers of wafer and the four-finger shape were unlike anything else on the market, and people were drawn to the novelty of it all.
As Kit Kats grew in popularity, Nestle Japan began to experiment with new flavors and marketing strategies. In the 1980s and 1990s, they introduced flavors like strawberry, matcha (green tea), and rum raisin. These flavors were a hit with Japanese consumers, who appreciated the way that Kit Kats were able to incorporate traditional Japanese flavors and ingredients into a modern, Western-style candy bar. In the early 2000s, Nestle Japan took things to the next level with the introduction of regional flavors. These were Kit Kats that were only available in certain parts of Japan and were designed to highlight local ingredients and flavors. For example, there were Kit Kats flavored with yubari melon from Hokkaido, purple sweet potato from Okinawa, and wasabi from Shizuoka. These regional flavors were hugely popular with tourists, who would often buy several boxes to take home as souvenirs.
One of the reasons that Kit Kats have been so successful in Japan is because of Nestle Japan's innovative marketing strategies. For example, the company has a tradition of releasing special-edition Kit Kats for holidays and other special occasions. These can include limited-edition flavors (such as sakura, or cherry blossom, for spring) or unique packaging designs (such as Kit Kats that look like Christmas trees for the winter holidays). Another marketing strategy that has been successful for Nestle Japan is the use of celebrity endorsements. For example, in the early 2000s, popular Japanese actor Yutaka Takenouchi appeared in a series of commercials for Kit Kats. In these ads, he would take a bite of a Kit Kat and then proclaim "oishii," which means "delicious" in Japanese. The commercials were a huge hit, and helped to cement Kit Kats' reputation as a trendy and fashionable treat.
As we mentioned earlier, the name "Kit Kat" is similar to the Japanese phrase "kitto katsu," which means "surely win." Because of this, Kit Kats have become associated with good luck and success in Japan. They are often given as gifts to students who are taking exams or to coworkers who are starting a new job or project.