Sure, Japan is known for its fresh seafood and matcha tea, but did you know that Japan is also the Kit Kat capital of the world?
With over 40 flavors to choose from at any given time — ranging from old-school staples such as milk chocolate to rarities like purple sweet potato — the average Japanese grocery store offers an astounding array of Kit Kat choices. Grab the full spectrum of options as cool souvenirs for your friends back home. Part of the gift, though, is recounting the fascinating story of why the chocolate brand has taken the country by storm. Here’s all you need to know.
Kit Kats arrived in Japan in 1973, over 50 years after they were first invented in England by the chocolate manufacturer Rowntree’s. Since then, the country has grown to become the brand’s biggest consumer in terms of both sales and profits, with Nestle as the present-day owner. From convenience stores to Kit Kat branded boutiques in Tokyo and Osaka, the sweet treats can be found at practically every turn. The “mini,” a bite-size version of the candy, currently leads as the most popular version, with sales exceeding four million bars every day.
So, how exactly did Japan become the Kit Kat capital of the world? The story begins with the candy’s name, which sounds like the Japanese phrase kitto katsu, meaning “you will surely win.” In fact, Nestle recognized that Kit Kat sales surged every January, as the candy bars were being given to students as a good luck snack before taking their Japanese university entrance exams. In 2009, Nestle partnered with Japan’s postal service to launch a campaign allowing consumers to mail candy bars along with written notes from 20,000 post offices across Japan. Suddenly, well-wishers were sending hundreds of thousands of candy bars to students sitting for the exam.
The crunchy chocolate wafers also grew in popularity around the turn of the millennium, when Nestle Japan began experimenting with a variety of new flavors in order to improve sales. The first new flavor to emerge was strawberry, which was released during strawberry season in Hokkaido. Ever since, unexpected flavors, many with a regional emphasis, have become a Kit Kat signature in Japan.
THE FLAVOR LINE-UP
Japan is home to over 40 different Kit Kat flavors on any given year. While Plain Milk Chocolate, Strawberry and Matcha varieties are consistent sellers, the brand rotates between 20-30 new flavors at any given time. Enlisting famous chefs and a busy product development team, Kit Kat releases have included everything from Baked Potato to Blueberry Cheesecake and even Sake flavors.
Generally, many of Kit Kat’s most interesting creations fit perfectly within the country’s culture of omiyage, the tradition of returning from trips with special presents for family and friends. Now, with this hard-to-resist lineup of candy options, you can do the same.