A wife’s love of ice cream brought Häagen-Dazs to Japan
Romance is a key element of most Häagen-Dazs advertising. So it should come as no surprise to learn that it was the wife of a company executive who helped bring Häagen-Dazs to Japan back in 1984.
Whether it was the wife of Keizo Saji, the late chairman of Suntory Holdings, one of our Häagen-Dazs joint venture partners (the other is dairy producer Takanashi Milk), or the wife of his son, Nobutada Saji, the current chairman of Suntory, is lost to history.
Whatever the case, it was a wife’s love of Häagen-Dazs – first tasted on a trip to the U.S. – that brought the ice cream to Japan. She convinced her husband to pursue Häagen-Dazs.
“Today, we’re not sure which of the stories is accurate, but we do know that one of the wives was responsible for the Häagen-Dazs business coming to Japan,” says Miho Imori, manager of the joint venture’s Strategic Planning division in Tokyo.
Häagen-Dazs has been in Japan ever since: nearly 31 years – an amazingly long tenure for a joint venture – five years older than our Cereal Partners Worldwide joint venture with Nestlé.
That’s due, in part, to its continuing success. In fiscal 2015, sales increased with strong demand for its core flavors of Vanilla, Strawberry and Green Tea, as well as limited edition products such as Hana Mochi. Häagen-Dazs Japan sales have continued to increase despite Japan’s declining population and stagnant economy.
In 1982, Keizo Saji was president of Suntory – Japan’s oldest and largest whiskey distiller founded by his father in 1899. He saw the need to diversify the business, going beyond alcohol and beverages.
So Saji took Suntory into new directions, investing in baseball teams, restaurants, movie studios, food and ice cream.
That same year, Suntory began discussions for a potential joint venture with Häagen-Dazs, which at the time was a family-owned, New Jersey-based company. During negotiations, Pillsbury acquired Häagen-Dazs in 1983.
“Suntory then changed its negotiating partner from Häagen-Dazs to Pillsbury, and those negotiations lasted about a year,” Miho says.
A deal was struck in August 1984. In creating Häagen-Dazs Japan, Pillsbury would have a 50 percent ownership stake; Suntory, 40 percent, and Takanashi, 10 percent. (Häagen-Dazs became part of the General Mills family with the purchase of Pillsbury in 2001.)
Within months of the joint venture’s creation, the first Häagen-Dazs Japan shop opened on Nov. 24, 1984, in Aoyama, a fashionable neighborhood in Tokyo.
From children’s snack to adult delicacy
Until the Häagen-Dazs joint venture was created, the brand was almost non-existent in Japan due to the country’s strict import regulations, Miho says.
Not only would Japanese consumers be introduced to a new ice cream, but a new type of consumer would be lured by Häagen-Dazs. Before the brand’s arrival, ice cream in Japan was considered a children’s snack.
“The sophisticated, high-quality flavor of Häagen-Dazs immediately appealed to adults, and completely changed the Japanese concept of ice cream established by conventional brands,” says Miho.
General Mills and its partners have made the alliance work well because of a shared objective in expanding the top quality and high-class image of Häagen-Dazs ice cream in Japan.
Japanese consumers are able to purchase an array of products, including the ever-popular Crispy Sandwich, limited editions such as Spoon Vege and Hana Mochi, and the best-selling Vanilla.
“These efforts have helped Häagen-Dazs Japan grow as a business,” says Miho. “Each partner has great pride in the brand, and this remarkable partnership can be attributed to their constant efforts to provide a better product.”
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