Every day in the world, around 100 million people consume an ice-cream produced with Carpigiani Group machines. With its 8 international branches, about 220 dealers, the presence in over 100 countries with machines in more than 200,000 ice cream parlors, bars and restaurants, Carpigiani has been the undisputed leader in the ice cream world for more than 70 years. Because when it come to gelato, as stated in the slogan on the company’s website, it’s the same the whole world over. But was it really so simple and immediate for the Emilian company to conquer foreign markets, especially those culturally far from Italy? Lorenzo Scrimizzi, Representative Director of Carpigiani Japan, shared the challenges and opportunities offered by the Land of the Rising Sun with the students of the BBS Master in Business Management.
For Italian exports, 2017 has been a year to remember. It recorded an increase of 7.2% in value and 3.1% in volume, gaining 448 billion euro in exports of goods, about 31 billion more than in 2016. According to ISTAT, the growth of non-EU trade grew by 8.2%, confirming Japan as the second market for Italian goods in Asia, preceded only by China. Business opportunities in the Japanese market are many, but the process of internationalization of Italian high-end companies can not be separated from a deep knowledge of the country’s cultural and regulatory specificities.
Lorenzo Scrimizzi, who has been living in Japan for the past 20 years, brought to BBS the experience of Carpigiani, which since 1946 represents the technical excellence of the machines for the production of gourmet gelato, better known as Italian-style ice cream. “It was not a simple route. In 1964, the year in which the company began to import its machinery in Japan, the culture of ice cream was in its early stage also in Italy, while in Japan it was an almost unknown product. In a B2B market like ours, it is essential to attract end customers. Our commitment therefore focused on two fronts: on the one hand there were the potential buyers of the machines and on the other the consumers, both of them still to be educated on the consumption of ice cream,” said Scrimizzi.
Carpigiani has conquered the Japanese market above all with its technology, capable of offering a higher volume of product at a better quality level than its competitors. Already in the 80s, for example, in the Carpigiani machinery was introduced the self-pasteurization technology, which solved the problem of daily washing and which today represents a market standard. If price can be a decisive factor in some markets, in Japan other elements, such as trust and perceived advantage, are more relevant. In fact, doing business in Japan is a lesson on the importance of details, where it is essential to aim for perfection.
When it comes to international business, however, everything that has to do with nutrition, immediately becomes part of a broader cultural discourse. “A Japanese who opens an ice cream shop in Tokyo is the equivalent of an Italian who opens a sushi restaurant in Italy. When you want to introduce a different food culture that the one to which the host country is used, you need to educate your customers,” explained Scrimizzi. “After the boom in the 80s, the consumption of Italian ice cream in Japan began to decline. The reasons were varied, including a decline in quality and the reduction of space dedicated to ice cream parlors in department stores, decision that clashed with the habit of the population to consume food when seated. In general, ice cream had entered Japan, but the culture of ice cream had not been created.” The company then understood that education could be an essential lever for its growth, not only in Japan but all over the world. From this awareness, in 2004 the Gelato University was born, which now has 13 branches all over the world.
A strong setback struck Carpigiani Japan in the period between 2008 and 2014, initially due to the advent of the financial crisis and subsequently to the earthquake that caused the Fukushima nuclear accident. The crisis was fully overcome in 2015, when the company experienced a further moment of fortification of its market position with the Japanese edition of the Gelato Tour. The success of the initiative was such that the branch received more than 180,000 contacts on Facebook in a few days, while 50,000 people participated in the event. “What has allowed us to start off stronger than before, also signing important distribution agreements and even becoming official suppliers of McDonalds, was our history. The love of the Japanese population for our country was strong and the seriousness we had shown in the 50 years of activity in Japan did the rest,” explained Scrimizzi.
Love, that of the Japanese people for Italy, which passes from admiration for our fashion, design, architecture and food, but even more through the multiple similarities between the two countries. “In addition to some historical parallelisms,” said Scrimizzi, “it is the culture of food seen as a moment of socialization, our tradition, the importance of local products, the care and enhancement of ingredients, to link us more than anything else. Moreover, we are perceived as a population that knows how to enjoy and appreciate the beautiful things of life, a country where there is room for the individual and his desires. In Japan there is a very rigid collectivist system and the ‘Italian’ way of life is still seen as the best one can aspire to.” Aware of this passion, in 2015 the company decided to propose to Japanese customers the possibility of doing intensive courses in Italy, to better combine training with the discovery of our culture.
“To be Italians is an advantage in the business relations, where we are appreciated for our openness and absence of arrogance in the negotiations. Doing business with the Japanese is a long process, made up of multiple exchanges of information and relationships, where we are often preferred over interlocutors from other, more aggressive nationalities,” added Lorenzo Scrimizzi. These are the merits that make them even forgive us some very Italian shortcomings, like the tendency to be late.
There are many opportunities to operate successfully on the Japanese market, especially when offering Italian products and know-how. Bologna Business School proposes, to those who have a passion for oriental cultures and want to acquire the capacities that are necessary to play a crucial role in the processes of internationalization of companies, the Full-time Master in Business Administration, address Asian Markets. The Master aims to provide the skills and tools needed to seize new business opportunities in the Far East, with a focus on China and Japan.
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