Littlepod: Entering Japan the ‘Kookai’ way

LittlePod now has a mask of the ancient Japanese priest Kookai hanging on its office wall: he is often depicted holding a fan which sweeps away misfortune and brings, in its place, good fortune.

LittlePod is a UK-based natural ingredients company, with a passion for real vanilla. Founded in 2010 and recent winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Sustainable Development the company now exports widely.

It was a leap of faith which took Janet Sawyer BEM, founder of the LittlePod natural ingredients company, to Japan in early March this year, as the company celebrated its 10th anniversary. LittlePod had planned to go the conventional route via Foodex, an international trade show. However it was cancelled due to the early signs of COVID-19.

So the LittlePod team decided to take a road less travelled: avoiding the lengthy processes associated with penetrating complex buying chains or another expensive option, offered to the company, via an online sales platform with an exciting but, what would be for Japan, relatively unknown product. The first call to the British Embassy to meet with Kai San, Senior Trade Advisor, confirmed and reinforced this message.

LittlePod had recruited an intern from Italy, Andrea Speciale, who had graduated with a Masters in Japanese culture and language, to act as intermediary and interpreter. It was important, of course, to communicate to him the particular values and goals of the company. He said: “When Janet explained everything to me about the company and her campaign to convert people to real vanilla I could see the fire in her eyes and immediately felt both involved and committed to the task.”

The team were very eager to show their brand and products to Japanese chefs, cooks and bakers to seek their opinion. Therefore, as a first step, a visit to a Japanese cookery school to appreciate the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine was essential.

So to the Kookai Cooking Studio and its proprietor Yumi. A mutual love of baking, quality ingredients, the future of the planet and a shared passion for Japanese Noh theatre won the day and an enduring friendship. Yumi, with her strong background in marketing as well as cookery, is now preparing to present the LittlePod products widely across Japan.

They found an importer and made several visits to see buyers at key department stores and other outlets. As Andrea said: ‘even if she knew it would be difficult Janet did not give up. And I believed we would manage to find business thanks to her ‘Janet-ism’…she wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone [it was also hard for me to keep up with her], she was so proactive and full of ideas.’

From small acorns large oaks grow and LittlePod has established firm beginnings in a hard-to-enter market. The LittlePod products are currently being very well-received: for their quality and branding. The Japanese were really impressed with their Queen’s Award and also the LittlePod philosophy which aligns with the Japanese ‘Mottainai’ or ‘sustainability without waste’.

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