FRESCA: Online marketplace for fine foods
For busy people, shopping for food online is a big convenience. Finding quality food products online is another matter.
Yoichiro Iwata and Taro Sasaki, two surfing pals who have known each other for 15 years since college, decided to blend their love of fine food and business by facilitating the sale of fresh and innovative Japanese and overseas products to a larger market. They formed their company SKYISTHELIMIT K.K. early this year and in August, launched FRESCA, an online marketplace for fine foods.
Prior to co-founding SKYISTHELIMIT, Iwata successfully drove B2B online marketing initiatives at Google Japan and launched a new specialized team in mobile applications for the SMB market. Before receiving an MBA from IE Business School in Spain, he managed one of the largest clients of IBM Japan and developed plans for strategic outsourcing services in Japan. His co-founder Sasaki launched Glossybox - the first online beauty subscription business in Japan, which became profitable after nine months under his leadership. He also headed Louis Vuitton Japan’s business development team, negotiating with major retailers and department stores for selective expansion and rebranding across Japan. Sasaki has an MBA from UCLA Anderson and years of experience in brand, management, and business process design consulting for top firms in the U.S. and Japan (Accenture, Hakuhodo Consulting, and Booz and Company).
Japan Today hears more from Iwata and Sasaki about the new business.
Why did you establish SKYISTHELIMIT?
Taro and I established the company as a platform for our business capabilities. The first and key project is FRESCA, an online marketplace for fine foods. From our experiences living abroad, we enjoyed cooking and entertaining at home. In Japan, it was hard to do that. We could not go to the food basements in department stores because we worked late. Also, we could not find certain kinds of quality foods online. Honestly, I don’t buy food on Rakuten because you cannot tell the quality. That’s why we decided to open an online marketplace for fine foods for people like us who enjoy fine foods, but don’t have time to go shopping.
How are you marketing the FRESCA marketplace?
We advertise through PR events and online marketing. We don’t use traditional mass marketing. Facebook is a very important marketing and communication tool for us; our likes have increased 40% per month.
How do get your products?
Some we import ourselves, but for the others, we use drop shipping. So far, our fresh produce is the most popular along with prepared foods from specialty restaurants.
How many categories do you intend to add in future?
We don’t plan to add too many completely new categories as we don’t want the website to look cluttered. What we do plan to add are sub-categories.
Do you think online retailing in Japan lags behind the U.S. and Europe?
There’s definitely a lag between Japan and the U.S. The e-commerce rate - especially for food - is much lower in Japan than in the U.S. Also, the web design esthetics are very different as well, which is one of the reasons why we started FRESCA. We wanted to start a clean and modern e-commerce food boutique, different from what is commonly found in Japan.
Are you going to make an English version of FRESCA?
That’s our plan. Even though we don’t have a full English website yet, our bilingual staff can take orders and field questions about any product. We hope to get our English site up soon.
How do you get feedback from customers?
Our customers have been great about giving feedback through e-mail and Facebook. Also, we plan to hold tasting events next year.
Tell us about the pop-up store in Isetan.
It’ll take place from Dec 26-Jan 7 in the B2 floor of Isetan in Shinjuku. We’re presenting our popular items as well as limited-time food gifts for the holidays. We’re also using this opportunity to introduce some of our new brands like Intelligentsia Coffee from Chicago, Olive & Sinclair Chocolate from Nashville, and many more.
How do you think the sales tax hike next April will affect business?
In the beginning, consumers may hesitate to spend, but after some time passes, we hope consumer spending overall will bounce back.
How many staff do you have?
We are an 8 person team consisting of partner professionals and companies, such as our photographer, engineers and so on.
What is a typical day for you?
As with any start-up company, each day is different and exciting. Sometimes, we’re organizing events and photo shoots, pitching to boutiques we like, handling logistics, etc. And of course, there’s the everyday paperwork and fielding e-mails that keep the company running.
How do you and Taro divide your duties?
We both work on different aspects of sales, logistics, marketing, etc. We’re truly a team.