With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, one name is hard to miss in the retail sector – Godiva. For the premium Belgian chocolate brand, the Valentine season (starting in January) accounts for around 30% of its annual sales.
Godiva Japan currently has 255 outlets which are in department stores, station buildings, high-end supermarkets and convenience stores such as Seven-Eleven during seasonal promotions.
Godiva is more than just chocolates. It also sells cookies, biscuits, assorted patisseries, ice cream and its Chocolixir line of chocolate drinks.
Overseeing the company’s operations in Japan and South Korea is Managing Director Jerome Chouchan. Born in France, Chouchan has been coming to Japan for business for the past 20 years. He took up his position as managing director in June 2010.
Japan Today editor Chris Betros visits Chouchan at the Godiva Japan headquarters in Toranomon to hear more and sample some chocolates.
Was 2013 a good year for Godiva in Japan?
Yes, our overall sales grew double digit, and it was well balanced as all our retail channels experienced growth—our direct stores, department stores, high-end supermarkets and online.
To what do you attribute the growth?
I think it is due to our marketing strategy of what we call “Aspirational and Accessible.” By aspirational, we mean that Godiva is a brand that you feel emotionally connected to. By accessible, we mean it is a brand you feel is relevant to your daily life. You can buy our chocolates in many places, and yet it is still a premium product. Market research has shown that our brand awareness is 90% among Japanese people. The next closest premium chocolatier is around 20%.
Is the market growing?
The chocolate market in Japan has been flat over the last 10 years. Japanese people don’t eat chocolate as much as in the U.S. or Europe. But there is a very strong gifting culture in Japan. Our business has grown because we have been able to develop good products and good marketing by developing various consumer occasions.
What would you say are some unique characteristics of the Japanese market?
The Japanese market is highly seasonal. You have Valentine’s Day, then White Day. In the summer season, we don’t sell a lot of chocolates, but we do sell more ice cream, chocolate drinks and cookies. In Europe, it is more balanced.
The gift-giving season is specific to Japan. The Valentine market in Japan is 95% chocolate whereas in Europe, people give flowers, jewelry as well as sweets. The Valentine season, which starts in January, accounts for 30% of our total sales. White Day is second and the winter gifting season that includes “o-seibo” and Christmas is third.
Another trend is that more people are buying our chocolates for themselves, not just as gifts. A lot of women do this during the Valentine season, for example. Often, they like to pick up smaller amounts at retail points near where they live and try them, then they will determine what to give as gifts.
What do you think of “giri” chocolate?
It’s unique to Japan. I see it as a natural extension of “o-seibo” and “o-chugen” where you express your gratitude to keep harmonious relationships.
Are your products made in Japan?
We import chocolates from Belgium but for some products, we have a diverse source of supply. For the Chocolixir drink, we import ingredients from Europe and make it in Japan. For cookies, we develop the recipe in Japan and have them made by a local manufacturer.
Tell us about the Wink and Smile campaign this year.
There is a perception that Japanese people don’t express their feelings much with body language and face. So last year we did the Love and Hug campaign—hugging a
specially constructed mannequin that measured the qualities of a person’s hug and
communicated it online. Based on how strong they hugged the mannequin, ladies received a certificate of love power. This year, with the Wink and Smile campaign, you send a message by using facial recognition technology. You choose the message with your face. That’s how you move the keyboard. By winking and smiling into the interface, you create a custom digital message to be uploaded and sent to a loved one or friend. The idea is to help people have a little more fun. We are doing it at four stores – Harajuku, Atre Ebisu, Ikebukuro-Seibu and DiverCity, Odaiba.
How many stores do you currently have?
We have 255 stores and plan to open another 6-9 this year. In choosing a location, we look for good traffic and easy access, so people don’t have to go far. We have a professional team who go all over Japan to plan store openings two or three years in advance. We know when malls and shopping centers are opening.
How are online sales?
They are increasing 20% per year.
How do you train your staff?
We put a lot of effort into training. No matter how much you spend in a store, you receive first-class service. We have product knowledge training, attitude training, we teach store staff how to smile and welcome customers. I was very pleased last year when a survey in the Nikkei Shimbun revealed that for many consumers, Godiva was the store that they had the most premium time in.
How often do you visit the stores?
As much as I can. It’s important for me to interact with the staff about trends, what customers say, what products are popular, because they are the front line. We also get a lot of customer feedback on our Facebook page.
You are also in charge of the South Korean business. How is that market doing?
Last year was our first full year in South Korea. We have eight stores and they are doing very well. What’s interesting is that Koreans are very interested in what works in Japan. They are happy to learn. One example is that Valentine’s Day and White Day have become popular there.
What areas of the business are you hands on?
It depends on the business cycle. I have been hands on with product and promotional aspects, but now I try to focus on the business one or two years from now. I prefer to give direction and empower my team.
Is Godiva a popular company for graduates?
Yes, we get a lot of applications and we started hiring graduates last year and will do so again this year. We start them in the stores to give them direct experience with customers.
Do you eat a lot of chocolate yourself?
I eat it a few times a week, sometimes a little tablet and at tasting sessions. Chocolate can be a little addictive. I look at what other chocolate companies are offering—their quality, and prices. Another important thing for me is to closely observe retailers in other industries such as cosmetics, clothing, restaurants and so on in order to get a sense of consumer trends
How do you like to relax?
I do “kyudo” (Japanese archery).