TOKYO (The Yomiuri Shimbun) — Japanese green tea-flavoured confect-ionery is popular not only among residents of Japan but also foreign tourists.
The finely powdered Japanese green tea, matcha, is associated by many Japanese with the traditional tea ceremony. But with its savoury aroma, hint of bitterness and healthy image, it is also an ingredient for various kinds of food today, including Western-style confectionery.
Recently, a 24-year-old tourist from Hong Kong was looking for something to buy among 30 matcha-flavoured sweets displayed around the entrance of Glico-Ya Dotombori store in Osaka.
“They are very Japanese. They aren’t too sweet and have a deep taste. Chinese teas don’t have that taste. I like it,” she said. “I’ll buy some for my friends and myself.”
Uji matcha-flavoured Giant Pocky is one of the most popular items. The product is coated with matcha-flavoured green cream. The matcha used for the product is manufactured by longstanding Japanese tea manufacturer Tsujiri in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture. The product sells for 1,080 yen (about US$9).
Confectionery manufacturers have begun to focus on the overseas market — and the expected the popularity of matcha-flavoured products may boost the Japanese green tea market itself.
According to major confectionery manufacturer Ezaki Glico Co, the lineup of matcha sweets at Glico-Ya has roughly tripled from last year, making the confectionery the store’s star items. Last year, its sales increased by a little more than 40 per cent from the previous year.
Such sweets are bought mostly by travellers from neighbouring Asian regions.
Kabaya Foods Corp in Okayama replaced its strawberry-flavoured Quattro biscuit with matcha-flavoured biscuit last spring. With sales roughly tripling those of the strawberry version, the company will continue selling the matcha version after this spring. The product sells for 130 yen.
A duty-free shop version of matcha-flavoured Kit Kat chocolate of Nestle Japan Ltd. in Kobe also sells well. Its sales in 2013 were 10 times that in 2009, according to the company. A box containing 10 small Kit Kat packs sells for 1,500 yen, excluding tax.
The rapid increase of tourists visiting Japan and the fact that foreign tourists are exempt from consumption tax on food has made matcha sweets even more popular. Itokyuemon, a company manufacturing and selling matcha sweets, in Uji, set up duty-free counters at its main store and two outlets.
“People in neighbouring countries really trust Japanese products. Also, they have their own tea culture … It’s probably one of the reasons why matcha sweets have become so popular,” a Glico public relations employee said.
An increasing number of confectionery manufacturers have begun emphasizing overseas expansion. Matcha-flavoured ice cream manufactured by Meiji Co is popular in China. The company plans to increase the production of ice cream at its factory in Guangzhou.