20 Keys Study Mission to Japan: Yakult Dairy Products

The Thursday visit of the 20 Keys Study Tour to Japan was to Yakult Dairy Products. The company was established in 1930, and they still have the same philosophy – to provide products which are good for people, to help them to have a long life, at an affordable price. Apart from dairy products (their food and beverages part of the business), Yakult is also producing products for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. Their vision is to “supply health and happiness to all the people in the world”.

They “offer dairy products containing probiotics, and functional foods and beverages developed through the pursuit of health benefits”.  For over 80 years, they have been pioneers in the field of probiotics, providing “products that contribute to good health”. As with other visits, their marketing and selling is about the brand, and emphasising health benefits very strongly – better skin, anti-cancer, healthy intestinal track, anti-ageing, lower blood sugar, and others. They have a network covering 38 countries, and 39 million bottles of their dairy products are consumed every day worldwide.

There is a strong emphasis on marketing products as “contributing to the health and happiness of people around the world, and being very close to our customers in terms of developing products, and understanding needs”. The latter part of the statement may sound obvious, and an assumption might be made that most companies in business do that, but with all the companies visited during the tour, it was observed that with Yakult’s closeness to markets, and the way in which products are marketed and sold in terms of benefits for consumers, they are on a different level. Part of their marketing includes lectures at schools, and various other institutions.

During lectures, they use scale models, and other instructional tools, to provide easy-to-understand information about the role of the intestines, and the importance of healthy eating habits.

An interesting approach is that some of their products are not sold through regular stores. They have ladies delivering it personally to houses, old age homes, offices, and other places. They have over 80,000 such “Yakult ladies” worldwide.

Other aspects that stood out are:

  • We again saw an absolute world class level in terms of food safety; this will become much more important in the future, and other food companies really need to step it up. Tour members again observed world best practices in action.
  • Zero rubbish is created; everything is recycled, and material is used for making items like bottle openers, and rulers which they hand out to visitors, and during community visits.
  • Extensive use of solar power, for creating the energy they need.
  • Visitors to the plant are encouraged, from school groups, to other companies; visitors like the ODI study group, community members, and old age homes.
  • Machines, laboratory samples, and every person check quality. The emphasis is on quick detection and correction; a fundamental quality assurance principle.
  • Excellent implementation of Key 9 (as covered in the 20 Keys) concepts. They also have blow moulding machines, for producing the bottles they fill with product.
  • World class dress code, and PPE.
  • Attractive packaging of products, aimed at different markets (“cute” for younger generation, etc.).
  • Community-focused, and what they do for them; their attitude is that they get the right from the community to operate there.
  • Lots of environmental, social and sport activities with employees, and also with the community involved.
  • As far as operations improvement systems like the 20 Keys are concerned, with organisations at the level of maturity that Yakult is at, no comments are needed regarding the level with basics like 5S, Goal Alignment, Engagement of People, Workplace Discipline and Maintaining Operating Procedures and Standards. These have all been sustained at world class levels, over a long period of time. In that, there is also an important lesson; where a company is still struggling with such issues, it is very difficult, and almost impossible to do well with other issues like cost effectiveness, quality, and delivery performance.

To view the full album of our visit to Nichiro Foods, Utsunomiya, click here.

Author: Johan Benadie: Director at ODI

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