Thursday, December 14, 2006
K Minus 14 Hours and Counting
In about 14 hours, Japan's first Krispy Kreme will open in Shinjuku (Southern Terrace). I'm not so excited about it that I'm keeping a count-down but the Japanese Krispy Kreme web site is set up to do so, so it seems in the spirit of things.
The main reason I'm so aware of this is that my husband works about a 5-minute walk away from the soon-to-be-opened shop. Last week, employees wheeled out carts full of boxes of their raised glazed donuts and gave away entire boxes to passers-by on the streets. My husband didn't get one but a few of his coworkers did and they shared them with the rest of the office. He brought one home for me to try. I was struck by its freshness, which is, after all Krispy Kreme's main selling point in the U.S. There is something different about the donut itself as well. It was much more evenly-raised and not as tough as some raised donuts I sometimes encounter in Japan.
The first person in line for the donuts tomorrow morning will get a dozen free donuts a week for a year and the first 100 will get free T-shirts. I'm not sure how insane the Japanese will be at the prospect of what will amount to about 70,000 yen worth of free donuts but I wouldn't be shocked at all to learn that someone might decide to sit out in the cold all night for that honor.
While I'm sure that there will be a fair amount of hoopla and patronage of the shop early on, I do wonder about the long-term viability of another donut chain in Japan. The freshness will be a plus but Dunkin' Donuts has already lost out to the ever popular Mister Donut in Japan and succeeding in Tokyo takes a lot of business on a daily basis given the high cost of renting space in high traffic areas such as Shinjuku.
Mister Donut has done a good job of finding ways to cater to the Japanese market. This is due, in part, to offering some menu items that uniquely appeal to the Japanese market but it may be more likely that, in a country that almost universally shuns the notion of a free refill, they offer free refills of their (abysmal quality) coffee. In Japan, where many young people can't find privacy in their own home, the ability to linger in restaurants for hours on end nursing a drink is one of the things patrons value most. It's a lot harder to kick people out when you offer bottomless cups. (Incidentally, the reason that young people sometimes can't find privacy in many cases is that they live with their families for far longer than western kids. It's not unusual to find kids residing with their parents up until marriage or work requires them to move out.)
Mister Donut also has adapted to Japanese tastes to some extent by diversifying the menu. They include some noodles and soups as well as steamed buns so that "real food" can be had in addition to sweets. The donuts they offer do not appear to be any less sweet than American-style donuts (in my opinion) of similar varieties but they do offer seasonal variations which include ingredients the Japanese favor such as sweet potato, sesame, and chestnut.
Finally, they offer a "club card" with which customers can accumulate points which allow them to get free gifts. The gifts vary wildly but, at present, they are offering Japanese-style paper lanterns. The campaigns are rather cleverly timed such that you have to consistently patronize the shops in order to get enough points before the campaign's deadline approaches or the points you've accumulated become useless. Most of the items are fairly cute and seem to be designed to appeal to the teenage girl to young office lady crowd. This is probably wise since young Japanese women are notorious for daily consumption of sweets and are likely frequent purchasers of donuts to take back to their office and share.
Given that Krispy Kreme has a relatively limited menu and pretty much hangs it value and reputation on lavishly-sweet treats that are fresh, I'm not sure that they will be showing the adaptability that the Japanese market might require in order to succeed in the long run. So far, the only concession to the Japanese market seems to be a reduction in the variety of donuts that the shops offer. If you compare the U.S. menu to the Japanese one, you'll see that a lot of the more ostentatiously sweet varieties are missing (as are the cinnamon ones for some reason). This could be related to simplifying the preparation process for new workers or due to limited space forcing them to pare down the menu but it also could be that the Japanese don't like piles of sweet crumbly things on top of their donuts.
I'm guessing that it won't take more than a year to find out one way or another if they're here to stay for awhile or if they'll have to give up on the Japanese market and go home. If you're part of the foreign crowd and want to give them a try, I'd recommend trying them out sooner rather than later in case it vanishes in the not too distant future.