A Tell Tale of KitKat

KitKat in Japan is not only a chocolate, it’s in a completely different sphere. It has evolved into a cult movement to the point of, it is a mandatory to bring home KitKat as souvenir if you travelled to Japan. FoodieS sits down with Ryoji Maki in Nestle HQ in Kobe Prefecture, Japan unveiling the crazy flavor and the idea behind it.

KitKat’s name echoes the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu” – meaning good luck and is often sent as a gift to students before college entrance exams. In Japan, KitKat is the country most popular candy; it is sold not only in convenient store but also in high-end department stores and even post offices. Some of the flavor even sold in special expensive packaging.

Every region also has a signature flavor sold only in that part of the country. In the span of 17 years, Nestle Japan has producing approximately more than 300 flavors of KitKat. This year alone, KitKat are releasing more than 20 flavors.The flavor range from ordinary one like chocolate or strawberry to dont-joke-to-me-flavor such as wasabi or pumpkin pudding. The company also has been working with renowned pastry chef Takagi.

“The varied tastes were made to pay tribute to the unique tastes and foods of Japan. It looks like we have so many varieties, but I think we can classify it into some big group such as fruits, Japanese taste, and for chocolatory product, we did bring many and collaborated with Chef Takagi-san for concept and development. He brought us many ideas of concept,” said Maki asked about how KitKat Japan develop the flavors.

He says Japan’s gift-giving tradition and particular culinary habits like prizing seasonal and regional products were taken into mind. The first flavor to be developed was strawberry in the 2000s. The reason why strawberry was chosen is simply because the strawberry is a popular flavor in Japan.

Chocolate market in Japan is very competitive and every product has a life cycle. The first cycle is the peak of the trial phase which lasted two or three weeks and they will cut the products. Consumers also demand choice and novelty as much as they prize tradition. According to Maki, about 2,000 new confectionery products are released each year in Japan, so it’s not enough to just offer dark or milk chocolate variations.

Taken this into consideration, KitKat decided to release limited edition for two or three weeks every month. After the success of strawberry, KitKat developed orange and pineapple as the second and third flavor respectively. Ingredients are sourced from regions across the country, often produced and sold to coincide with food seasons in limited edition boxes of KitKat minis. There is a seasonal flavor too for example, strawberry is loved in December.

“After that, we developed western taste, fruits, and we try to use Japanese ingredient. Matcha is use in other sweet category such as ice cream. We are proud to say that we are pioneer in the use of matcha in chocolate and we still leading the segment. Few years later, foreign visitor found Japanese matcha KitKat, and they started talking about it. That direction, enable us to develop roasted tea or Japanese traditional pastry called manju,” comment Maki on the development of the flavor.

To develop one flavor, the company will go several steps. The first one is to check market availability, measure size of the market for each of region and validate the size of the market. Once the boxes are tick, they will find the popular flavor in each region; purple potato is famous in Okinawa, Tochiotome strawberry in Tochigi, Yokohama is famous for its strawberry cheese cake.

One simple flavor can take up 4 to 5 months of preparation with the standarized timeline is 6 months. However, depending on the visibility, experience or the study, a complicated flavor like Moleson can take 1 year.

Asked on the most beloved flavors among 300ish flavor, Maki said the position is hold by green tea and strawberry. Currently, green tea is holding 5% of the chocolate market and strawberry has bigger percentage. The classic such as milk chocolate and dark chocolate not surprisingly also still favorite to many people.

Right now, KitKat has been reinventing some of the beloved flavor such as green tea and sake. The new green tea will feature more matcha creating a stronger taste. The same applied to sake flavor. Collaborating with former football player Hidetoshi Nakata, the new Japanese sake KitKat will taste stronger.“Before we decided something new or reinventing new flavor, we always thought what is the best flavors that we have developed so far. We believe even the best flavors can always be improved. there is always room for improvement. Matcha and sake are now facing face two of development and It’s going great.”

Written by Tatu Hutami November 24, 2017.