I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion for Japanese Companies looking to expand into Singapore. It was a good experience with good questions about the Singapore market by the audience.
As part of JETRO’s three-day program to support Japanese small, medium enterprises (SMEs) looking to expand internationally into Singapore, participating SMEs attended a panel discussion where local distributors shared their experience on introducing Japanese products into the Singapore market.
The panelists included Adrian Goh, Director of Inter Rice Asia Pte Ltd, a sake distributor and retailer, as well as Amanda Tan, Co-founder of Zairyo, primarily a Japanese e-Grocer for consumers, but which also supplies Japanese products to restaurants in Singapore.
The panel discussion touched on several topics including local market demand, brand marketing strategies in Singapore, and the future of e-commerce.
There is generally high demand for Japanese F&B products among Singaporeans. More significantly, there has been an increase in appreciation for high-quality products, and this works in Japan’s favour as Japan is recognised globally to provide high standards of quality. What then are the challenges Japanese F&B SMEs face in entering the Singapore market?
Adrian highlights that many small Japanese businesses do not seem to have a good understanding of their product positioning (price to quality ratio) in the local market. It can be profitable for instance to sell a smaller quantity, but at a higher price due to better product quality, and such knowledge of one’s own product in the local market could do much to help enhance sales strategies. Adding on to this, Amanda emphasises the importance of market research and how she usually takes to social media to better understand what locals like and are actually interested in these days. Both panelists agree however, that Singapore generally follows trends rather than sets them. If the product is popular in Japan, it is likely to have a bigger market demand here in Singapore.
On brand marketing in Singapore, storytelling plays an important role. Adrian commented on how most breweries tend to market their products focusing on how high quality water and rice, or good and rich soil for rice growth is used to make their sake. However, this gets old over time and consumers do not actually remember what they have tried before.
For example, a brewery he once visited in Japan takes a very different approach, incorporating modern day sensibilities into their image branding by changing the way they introduced their sake. Instead of the usual, the brewery focuses on making their sake using cutting-edge methods. Additionally, the brewery adopts different modern designs for its product packaging each time, ensuring the brand stays fresh and relevant to the present day. While the designs might differ in each product release, Adrian notes that it always follows a common vision and story. This is how a brand can differentiate itself from others and make consumers remember them.
On the other hand, Amanda highlights the importance of educating consumers on why one’s product is worth buying, as certain products such as daily groceries like soy sauce and fish might not benefit as much from having a story behind its marketing strategy. For instance, consumers in Japan might be familiar with how certain ingredients are consumed or used, but locals in Singapore might not. An important first step is thus to educate consumers on how the products can be used and by extension, this allow consumers to better understand what their money is being spent on and thereby see value in purchasing it.
When asked what the future of e-commerce looks like, Amanda is confident that the industry has tremendous potential. Zairyo, a primarily e-commerce platform, achieved 100% sales growth last year and aims to achieve 150% sales growth this 2020. Amanda recognises that e-commerce websites are important even in Japan, particular with high mobile phone usage in our modern day. The key in driving sales however, lies in the ease of utilization. While Japanese e-commerce sites contain a lot of product information and are graphically well-designed, it is difficult to navigate and too many clicks are required to complete a purchase. To covert leads into actual sales, it would be helpful to reduce the number of clicks required for a potential consumer to complete a purchase.
Both panelists rounded off the discussion with the following advice to Japanese businesses looking to enter the Singapore market:
Amanda – To those looking for local partners, speak to someone who can be honest with you, not just respectful to you. That is more helpful to gather feedback for market research.
Adrian – Japanese products are highly regarded in Singapore because of the story behind them. For Japanese businesses, think about your company’s history and what kind of story you will be able to tell from there.
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