Giv­ing them a break: Ja­pan’s ex­otic Kit Kat fla­vors en­tice tourists, lo­cals

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS -

Wasabi, green tea and sake aren’t just foods in Ja­pan, they’re also a few of the many ver­sions of Kit Kats of­fered in the coun­try.

While the wafer-and-choco­late snacks have been avail­able in more than 300 fla­vors here for more than four decades, re­cent of­fer­ings from cus­tard pud­ding to gin­ger have made the na­tion the go-to des­ti­na­tion for pick­ing up odd vari­a­tions. They’re so pop­u­lar among tourists that Nes­tle is build­ing its first Kit Kat fac­tory in 26 years to meet boom­ing de­mand.

It’s no sur­prise, then, that the archipelago boasts the world’s sec­ond-largest con­sump­tion of Kit Kats. Nes­tle Ja­pan will start op­er­at­ing a sec­ond fac­tory in the western city of Himeji from Au­gust ded­i­cated to mak­ing up­scale, pricier ver­sions of the snack.

“We have Kit Kat back in Ger­many, but it’s not the same,” said back­packer Matt Borscak, 34. “The cul­tural touch makes it in­ter­est­ing. I bought a few packs of the wasabi ones, and I can’t wait to shock my friends.”

A pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for fans of the snack is the Kit Kat Cho­co­la­tory in an un­der­ground shop­ping cen­ter con­nected to Tokyo Sta­tion, where Nes­tle sells high-end fla­vors that can fetch more than 1,500 yen ($13.50) per pack­age. Boxes of gourmet sea­sonal fla­vors — rasp­berry and grape­fruit — with some cost­ing as much as 3,500 yen ($31.53), or more than 10 times the cost of a reg­u­lar bag of Kit Kats, are stacked across a counter, wrapped in gold pa­per. On Tues­day, Nes­tle Ja­pan opened its ren­o­vated Cho­co­la­tory flag­ship store in Ginza, Tokyo’s main shop­ping dis­trict.

“We take pride in our unique fla­vors and I think that makes Ja­pan spe­cial in the Kit Kat world,” Takuya Hi­ra­matsu, a spokesman for Nes­tle Ja­pan, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view, not­ing that the com­pany of­fers 30 fla­vors now. He cited matcha as a fa­vorite of tourists and lo­cals alike, with vis­i­tors also snap­ping up fla­vors like wasabi, sake and pur­ple yam.

While Kit Kat choco­lates de­buted in the United King­dom in 1935 and are an en­dur­ingly pop­u­lar snack in North Amer­ica and Europe, con­sumers in Ja­pan em­braced them in part be­cause the prod­uct’s name sounds like “kitto katsu,” or “sure win” in Ja­panese. That has made them a pop­u­lar gift for peo­ple about to sit for an ex­am­i­na­tion, or take on an im­por­tant project. Pack­ages adorned with phrases like “Do Your Best!” and “Be­lieve in Your­self !” are pop­u­lar dur­ing school en­trance exam sea­son. — Bloomberg News

Tomohiro Ohsumi, Bloomberg News

A box of the cus­tom­iz­a­ble Kit Kat bars is shown at the Kit Kat Cho­co­la­tory Ginza store in Toyko.

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