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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Treats Businessmen to Chocolate

TOKYO -- It may not come in a plain brown paper bag, but the latest adult entertainment for Japanese men promises a pleasurable rush and a guilty little thrill.

Chocolate, long considered the vice of children and women, is gaining an unlikely new following in Japan as confectionery makers target supermarket-shy businessmen.

The secret? Bring it straight to the office.

"We just couldn't get through to them with conventional sales methods," said a spokesman for Ezaki Glico Co. Ltd., Japan's third-largest chocolate maker.

Faced with fierce competition and a declining birth rate that has eroded chocolate sales among Japanese children, the company changed tack, stocking company staff rooms all over Tokyo with special "refreshment boxes."

The boxes operate on an honor system. Put 100 yen ($0.76) in a piggy bank, open a drawer and take the candy of your choice.

Surveys show that up to 90 percent of adult chocolate purchases at convenience stores are made by women, but men account for 70 percent of refreshment-box sales, Glico said.

The firm plans to open 20 marketing centers for the new service in Tokyo and the western city of Osaka in the next five years, aiming at 1 billion yen ($7.6 million) in annual sales by 2007.

"Chocolate is being accepted by an increasing number of adults," said Fumio Sukegawa, executive director of the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan. "Companies are introducing new products constantly to attract more buyers."

Manufacturers are also trying to stimulate consumption by touting the purported health benefits of chocolate, pointing to recent studies suggesting the polyphenol contained in cocoa beans can help ward off cancer and reduce stress, he said.

Japanese consumption of chocolate products rose 2.5 percent to 239,027 tons in 2001 -- the third straight year that demand has hit a record high, data compiled by the association show.

Domestically produced chocolate accounted for 221,696 tons of total consumption, with 17,331 tons coming from imports.

Per capita consumption in 2001 hit a record 1.88 kilograms, up 2.2 percent from a year earlier.

"Our target is to raise annual consumption to 2 kilograms per person in the near future," Sukegawa said.

Japanese output of chocolate products last year rose 3 percent to 223,600 tons -- also a record high for a third straight year.

Sukegawa said the growth was remarkable when compared with output of other confectionery such as candy and cookies, which were flat or lower than year-ago levels.

Japan's overall confectionery output dipped 0.9 percent to 1,954,711 tons in 2001.

The new demographics of chocolate-selling can be seen in the sales strategies of companies across the board.

Mid-sized Japanese chocolate maker Furuta Co. joined hands in 1999 with a Japanese toy maker to develop a chocolate egg containing miniature clay animal figures.

The realistic figures of cats, birds, wolves and other creatures, some of them rare or endangered, triggered a craze last year as people rushed to collect full sets.

Most customers were men aged 30 to 50, the company said.

In Tokyo offices, it is not unusual to see them lined up on desktops or computer monitors.

Since the product was launched in 1999, Furuta has sold more than 75 million units, which industry officials describe as "a mega hit" in the confectionery industry.

Inspired by Furuta, other companies have rushed to grab a piece of the new chocolate-toy market, which grew last year to an estimated 54 billion yen.

Toymaker Tomy Co. Ltd. last October launched a line of chocolate spheres containing fanciful figurines such as UFOs. It aims at sales of 750 million yen in the first year of marketing.

Takara Co. Ltd., Japan's third-largest toymaker, will launch similar products this year.

In May the company will begin marketing a product combining chocolate flakes with a miniature toy tank. Later in the year it aims to sell chocolate eggs with an animal inside.

Takara's general manager, Youko Watanabe, said Japan's toy and chocolate makers faced a common problem of falling sales due to Japan's declining birth rate, so the two sectors are joining hands to make toy-like products that appeal to adults, she said.

"Sweet chocolate makes you feel relaxed and toys make you feel excited," Watanabe said. "That's not only something children want. Adults need it too."