Features

Published: Friday August 15, 2014 MYT 5:30:00 PM
Updated: Saturday August 16, 2014 MYT 11:40:19 AM

Nom nom nom: Keeping Japanese offices happy with snacks

In Japan, the maker of Pocky has found a winning way to keep office workers happy and make money.

Japanese confectionery maker Ezaki Glico, best known for its stick-shaped Pocky snacks – called Mikado in Europe – has taken convenience to a new level for corporate employees too busy to pop out of the office with kiosks-in-a-box filled with munchies. 

Drawing inspiration from unmanned road-side vegetable vendors common in rural Japan, Office Glico comes as a three-drawer box, roughly the size of a countertop file cabinet. Each Office Glico set contains 24 items when fully stocked. Company workers simply deposit ¥100 (RM3.10) into a frog-shaped coin bank, open a drawer and take the snack of their choice. 

On the face of it, relying on trust alone may seem risky, but Japanese are well known for their honesty, not to mention strict laws regarding petty theft – people charged with the crime of not returning a found wallet can face up to 10 years in jail.

Convenience: The Office Glico is basically a plastic box with drawers (L) filled with snacks and a coin bank attached to the top. It also comes with a mini-fridge option (R) filled with boxed drinks and frozen snacks. To buy the snacks, one simply puts in ¥100 into the coin bank for each item they take. Office Glico comes with absolutely no anti-theft security and yet Ezaki Glico has a recovery rate of 95% – a testament to Japanese honesty. 

The contents on offer – replenished or replaced weekly by an army of 500 part-time workers – also change every three weeks, adding an element of surprise that vending machines do not provide, said Keisuke Furuyabu, who heads the business. “There’s an air of mystery and fun.”

When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011 and paralysed the capital’s public transportation system, stranded office workers subsisted on Glico snacks. Notes of gratitude gave the company the idea of marketing Office Glico as a useful addition to disaster relief, said Furuyabu.

“We cleared out the boxes that day, since hundreds of us spent the night at the office,” said Nobuhiro Nagasato, an IT worker. Nagasato routinely nibbles on Office Glico snacks, even though a convenience store is just around the corner. “I can’t be bothered to leave the building,” he said. 

Treats for hard work

Japanese corporate culture is legendary for long working hours. A Japanese worker puts in an average 1,735 hours a year, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), far more than most European nations.

Office Glico, which also offers a fridge-and-freezer version carrying drinks and ice-cream, now serves 1.8 million people in 100,000 locations, twice the number of Japan’s ubiquitous convenience stores. Last year, it racked up US$44mil in sales and turned a profit for the first time since it started 12 years ago.

To drive growth, it plans to add breakfast items and midnight meals. It sees potential growth in nursing homes to take advantage of Japan’s fast-ageing population, where seniors outnumber children by about two to one. It expects sales to grow another 30% in three years.

Keeping customers happy: A worker for Office Glico replenishing supplies in an office in Tokyo. 

The company has seen some surprising patterns in demand, Furuyabu said. Grown men were snapping up baby crackers while bosses were using the snacks as a token treat to thank hard-working staff.

Furuyabu says he now gets requests all the time from other food manufacturers to be included in Office Glico refreshment boxes. Kameda Seika, a top maker of rice crackers, makes small packages designed exclusively for the box, complete with an Office Glico label.

Could the honour-system work outside Japan, a country where lost wallets regularly end up back with their owners? “Collection might be an issue,” Furuyabu said, acknowledging that Office Glico’s 95% recovery rate could be tough to replicate beyond Japan’s shores. 

By the way, isn't time for a little break? – Reuters

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Features, Japan, Office Glico, work, culture, snacks, Ezaki Glico, Pocky, kiosk in a box

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