Global Brands: Kitto Katsu!

by Translation Guy on March 15, 2010

The splendor and variety of snacks in Japan are unrivaled, and Japanese junk-food eaters won’t stand for just any junk. It has to taste really good and be viral enough to ride each food fashion wave that sweeps the country each season.

Now at the crest, the flavor favorite of the number one candy brand in Japan: soy sauce-flavored Kit Kats. That’s pronounced “kitto katsu” in Japan, which also means “surely win,” which is exactly what Nestlé has done with this familiar old brand (and in the most brilliant, local way might I add).

Plain old Kit Kats are the best selling candy bars in the world, but they must seem pretty old-hat in Japan right now.

Nestlé has come up with varieties that reflect the local produce and palate of each region. There are some staple flavors like miso, soy sauce, and green tea that are found in all regions, but Kit Kat varieties now range from yubari melon and baked corn in Hokkaido in the north, to green beans and cherries in Tohoku in the northeast, to yuzu fruit and red potatoes on Kyushu Island at the southernmost tip of the country.  The Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, contributed the sweet potato, blueberry, and kinako (soybean) flavors. The strategy started three years ago with a handful of flavors, but has escalated into a national phenomenon. It’s also unique to Japan, so Kit Kat lovers in other countries shouldn’t expect to see exotic local flavors. (Dear readers, I appeal to you in the name of science: I am seeking donations of kinako Kit Kats for additional research.)

Many of the special flavors are only introduced for a limited time to entice consumers to try something new while they can, and then they’re quickly taken off the market.

Nestlé took their winning product and tied it in with the tradition of offering best wishes to students on the eve of their tough national exams. They partnered with Japan’s postal service to create “Kit Kat Mail,” a postcard-like product sold only at the post office that could be mailed to students as an edible good-luck charm.

Nestlé decorates post offices with a cherry blossom theme that coincides with Japan’s annual exam period. It also stocks a sales point in each post office.

How to get to “wow” is tough for a global brand, and it must be done market by market. Up until recently, most of the work we do on branding is defensive ― designed to protect our clients from stepping on cultural toes and crossing linguist signals ― so it’s a nice change to approach this problem in a more proactive way, through harmonization and back translation, so that the guys at the head office can really get it and the in-country guys stay on the same corporate page.

This story is cribbed from Laurel Wentz at Ad Age Global News newsletter, which I recommend to anyone interested in international advertising. For a user perspective, check out Jen’s mission to try as many wacky Kit Kats as she can.

April Fools Update (April 5, 2010): The rise of the Kit Kats.

On April 1st, a strangely dressed intruder was arrested at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. The saboteur, Eloi Cole, claimed to have travelled back in time to prevent the future destruction of the world as we know it.

“Police said Mr Cole, who was wearing a bow tie and rather too much tweed for his age, would not reveal his country of origin. ‘Countries do not exist where I am from. The discovery of the Higgs boson led to limitless power, the elimination of poverty and Kit-Kats for everyone. It is a communist chocolate hellhole and I’m here to stop it ever happening.'”

If Cole’s allegations are true, does this mean that wacky flavored Kit Kats are bad and not good? More as this story develops…


  1. Georgie G. says:

    Sounds interesting. I’ll have to look for this when I’m there in October. I really love the steamed cheesecakes.

  2. F0ools gold says:

    Am wondering if you could recommend any mochi confectionary shops in Kyoto.
    I usually get my mochi fix from the kombini. Had one wif chocolate powder sprinkled on earlier this year & i think its was either from sunrise or 7 11!
    yeah japanese kombini rocks !

  3. Arthur says:

    These things are always great, but soooo fattening. Many of the cakes in Japanese shops have hefty calories.

  4. Shanana says:

    What about the wafer cookie with pop rocks inside? Or at least, that’s what the packaging seems to by indicating to my uncomprehending gaijin eyes. I mean, isn’t that what’s suggested by that inset that says “soda” and shows lots of bubbles coming out of the blue pebbly things? Assuming I’m right, this candy gets a 9/10 for concept, but the execution was a disappointment!

  5. Orange_girl says:

    Shrimp burger! They sell these premade in little bags, the way we sell twinkies — but they’re actually good. Talk about convenience food! Also confirms my theory that everything is better with a ton of Japanese mayo.

    • Ken says:

      Japanese snacks are killer good, but I got to insist on a jar of Hellman’s in the fridge next to Cupie. Putting that Japanese stuff on my baked beans would just be plain wrong! I used to love the shrimp burgers at Wendy’s (which have all been closed in Japan, shockingly) So Lotte or bust. All these comments are making me hungry!

  6. Jamie Lynn says:

    Tiny burgers! Made of cookie and chocolate and a layer of peanut butter “cheese”. These are freaking adorable. Also, the “bun” tastes like toasted sesames.

  7. Hoshiko says:

    Best part of the snacks from Japan were the Kit Kat bars. Yellow peach and white peach. Addiction is a beautiful thing, when we’re talking about candy bars from foreign lands.

  8. White hypoe says:

    Are Kit Kat candies like sex? Oh hell yes. Is food the new sex and are people making a fuss about it because people need consolation about the sexual revolution? Um.. maybe that’s stretching it a little.

  9. Karen Uns says:

    i’ve been eating an insane amount of Japanese junk food lately. I will keep an eye out for these and let you know if I spot any.

  10. Mark says:

    I brought some strawberry/blueberry KitKats as well as some muscat KitKats back from my latest Asia trip. I miss all the snacks, but thank goodness we can get most of them at Asian grocery stores around here!

  11. Ty J. says:

    You need to head out to NJ to the mother lode of Japanese grocery stores — Mitsuwa. It’s just a 20-30 minute shuttle ride away from Port Authority. They also have an awesome food court. Make sure to save room for ramen at Santouka.

    • Ken says:

      Mitsuwa is an amazing experience and I am long overdue for a shopping visit. Thanks for the reminder, Ty.

  12. Wanona says:

    I make regular stops at Kam Man to scope out their Kit Kat selection. Sadly, they only have one flavor, triple berry. My friend in Kyoto just shipped a box of various flavors to me last month, though!! So I’m still floating in the clouds off that stash :)

  13. Olivia says:

    I’m still wrapping my head around soy Kit Kats… I saw them somewhere and forgot to pick them up. My waist says thank you but my mouth says something completely different, second word also you. lol.

  14. Russ says:

    As for sex=food… heh. here:

  15. Tracy SePaul says:

    I think exotic flavours of kit kat are nothing compared to the really weird foodstuffs reviewed by Jet Daisuke ( Some examples are curry flavoured soda (ramune), cheese-filled fishcake bread (which sounds wrong on so many levels), alcohol-infused milk, cheese-filled pickled plums, milk pudding that is spread on bread…

  16. Tournino says:

    If food is the new sex, maybe salmonella is the new gonorrhea.

    • Ken says:

      Tournino, are you implying that Kitto Katsu is Japanese food porn?

  17. Forecaster says:

    Me likey KitKatty’s

  18. Meg says:

    Somewhat relevent blog post about weird and cute Japanese snacks:

  19. Nat says:

    While it might be hard to believe, and I am not ashamed, some junk food in Japan really captivates me. This quasi-junk food, mochi mochi mushi pan, or steamed bread has got me. I haven’t been able to get over it for a year now so I thought that I ought to introduce it on KyotoFoodie. It is quite interesting stuff!

  20. Ty J. says:

    Welcome Ken :-)

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