Interview: Harry Hakuei Kosato, Director of Kikkoman India

Harry Hakuei Kosato

An interview with Harry Hakuei Kosato, Director of Kikkoman India, World’s leading brand of Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce with legacy of 350 yrs

Mr. Harry Hakuei Kosato, as the Director of Kikkoman India, brings forth a wealth of experience in perpetuating the legacy of the world’s foremost naturally brewed soy sauce brand. With a heritage spanning over 350 years, Kikkoman stands as a testament to tradition and excellence.

Mr. Kosato’s stewardship underscores Kikkoman’s commitment to delivering quality and authenticity in every bottle, bridging cultures through the rich flavors of soy sauce.

Could you provide insights into your journey and experiences as the Director and India Representative at Kikkoman India?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: First and foremost, I must say that our journey in India is essentially a big team effort. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve thousands and thousands of eateries, be it restaurants cloud kitchen or catering companies, together with the chefs, restaurateurs and more who serve these establishments – many who have already chosen to switch to using Kikkoman Soy Sauce, in India.

Our team in Japan and India work closely with our production and R&D centres, and it has been a truly amazing and remarkable journey where we have been welcomed by India.

Second, the journey has been challenging but rewarding, as we see the acceleration of progress of our business in the first three years alone in India – we are grateful for the opportunity to serve the Indian market.

And lastly, we see so much more potential in India from the business we have created. The first three years are simply just the beginning, and we plan to expand the range of sauces – Kikkoman Soy Sauce, Kikkoman Oyster Flavoured Sauce, and Kikkoman Dark Soy Sauce – with more products in the future.

Share with us the obstacles and achievements you’ve faced while leading the launches of luxury products, and your responsibilities as Head of Marketing throughout those endeavors?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: So Dyson was one dashing brand I had the honour of serving and learning from earlier in my career, in Japan. I think ultimately, as someone with a background in psychology, that it is all essentially about perception change.

Why would you buy a Dyson vacuum cleaner which is a lot more expensive than other vacuum cleaners? Changing people’s perception may take time, but once perception has changed, purchasing happens rather automatically, and usually there is no looking back.

I’ve never really heard of someone who switched to using a Dyson who has gone back to using a normal vacuum cleaner. It was amazing to be part of the team to see how we could change the perception of people in Japan with the great British product by changing their lives more comfortable.

That is the same thing for Kikkoman in India – once people know and understand the value of the product and change their perceptions, they vote with their feet, and continue to purchase Kikkoman, and usually do not go back to use former products.

Could you describe Kikkoman’s unique selling proposition (USP) in the market?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: Kikkoman believes that our unique selling promotion (USP) in the market is “Tradition and Quality.” The history of brewing Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce began more than 350 years ago. The current Kikkoman corporate entity was established through the merger of eight founding families in 1917 and Kikkoman has been brewing and selling soy sauce for over 100 years, building customer trust in the reliability and quality of the brand.

Today, Kikkoman has become a global business, expanding to over 100 countries, with 11 soy sauce production sites worldwide that distribute its products all over the world to millions of consumers.

Kikkoman Soy Sauce is produced using a method called the “Honjozo method”, a natural brewing process using microorganisms. It is made using only four ingredients: soybeans, wheat, salt, and water, which are slowly fermented and matured over a long period of time.

During the brewing process, over 300 different aromatic and many umami components are created. Kikkoman Honjozo Soy Sauce has abundant umami components, making it a perfect match for any dish.

Kikkoman Soy Sauce is known around the world as an All-Purpose Seasoning, it can be used not only in Japanese cuisine, but also in many other genres, including Chinese, Asian, Western and Indian cuisine.

Kikkoman is already used by many professional chefs, and its quality and taste are highly regarded in India. For example, many Chinese restaurants in India have switched to Kikkoman Soy Sauce, including Berco’s, a Chinese chain restaurant with 46 outlets in India, and historic Chinese restaurants such as Chungwa and Zen in Delhi and Sampan in Mumbai.

Recently, Kikkoman created a testimonial video with chefs and restaurateurs, and in these videos, they cited quality, taste, and the fact it is an All-Purpose Seasoning to suit any cuisine, as the reasons for their switch to Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

We believe that Kikkoman Soy Sauce will continue to gain high acceptance in the Indian market because of its quality and taste as a traditional soy sauce, but with the flexibility to be applied to a wide range of dishes.

How do you keep updated of the latest trends and advancements in the food industry to maintain the competitiveness of the brand?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: Well, observation and experience are the 2 basic things I am always working on with my team to keep updated on what’s going on. In particular, visiting trade shows not only in India, but as far as Anuga in Germany, is one thing we try to do.

Importantly, however, the answer invariably lies on the streets of India and listening to our customers, having the ear on the ground is so fundamental and critical. We always like to believe we are a few steps ahead, and that means a huge effort to understand and take appropriate actions to continue to evolve and do better everyday.

What is your approach to product development and innovation at Kikkoman, ensuring they align with the changing needs of consumers?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: One of the Kikkoman Group’s management principles is “consumer-oriented”. Kikkoman listens to the voice of our consumers, gains insight into market needs, and provides products and services of value. The background behind the launch of the new Kikkoman Dark Soy Sauce in the Indian market is also based on this principle.

Kikkoman launched its first dark soy sauce for the Indian market because, during our research in India, we found that Indian Chinese food, which evolved uniquely in India, is generally popular and dark soy sauce is often used in Indian Chinese food.

However, common dark soy sauces usually contain colouring agents, and many products are fortified with artificial seasonings. Therefore, Kikkoman wanted to develop a dark soy sauce without colouring agents or artificial seasonings that would deliver a more natural and deeper flavour. We developed this Kikkoman Dark Soy Sauce in the hope of bringing the delicious taste of soy sauce to a wider audience.

Kikkoman will continue to listen to the voices of Indian consumers and provide them with value added services and products.

Can you discuss any challenges you’ve faced in marketing and selling products, and how you’ve overcome them?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: In this age of global dissemination of information, more and more people in the Indian food service industry are familiar with the Kikkoman brand. At the same time, however, there is a widespread misconception that Japanese soy sauce = soy sauce used for sushi, and we are faced with a challenge to change this perception.

To overcome this challenge, we are first making people understand that there are various types of soy sauce. Dark soy sauce, commonly used in India, is a soy sauce used to add colour to dishes, while Kikkoman’s Honjozo Soy Sauce is primarily used to give flavour to dishes.

There are different types of soy sauce used for different purposes, and we strive to help people understand the difference between them.

Furthermore, we are spreading the word in India that Kikkoman Soy Sauce is “All-purpose Seasoning”. Indian chefs with overseas experience recognize Kikkoman Soy Sauce as All-purpose Seasoning and use it not only in Japanese cuisine, but also in other genres such as Chinese, Asian, Western, and Indian cuisine.

By becoming a brand endorsed by such professional chefs, Kikkoman is spreading awareness that Kikkoman Soy Sauce can be used not only for Japanese cuisine, but also for a variety of other cuisines, including Chinese and Indian cuisine.

Future vision and expansion plans of Kikkoman?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: Kikkoman aims to make Kikkoman Soy Sauce a truly global seasoning, and to make Kikkoman Soy Sauce not only for Japanese food, but also to become an everyday seasoning used in Indian households in the future.

As a first step toward this goal, Kikkoman India is initially working to facilitate the introduction of Kikkoman brand to the HORECA market. Asian cuisine in India, especially Indian Chinese, is expected to grow significantly in the future, and we are certain that it will become quite a large market considering India’s population growth rate.

In addition, over the past 5-7 years, Indian Chinese cuisine have been increasingly prepared at home in India, especially in urban areas.

With the growth of Chinese food in India, we aim to be the No.1 brand in Asian sauce category in the first instance. India has a rich and diverse history, with a deep and complex food culture, and consumers are all passionate and particular about their food.

Therefore, by enlisting the support of the top chefs of India, we think it is imperative to consolidate the status of Kikkoman as “the” authentic – naturally brewed – soy sauce. To create the understanding that Kikkoman Soy Sauce is indeed the preferred soy sauce brand for professional chefs, we have first entered the HORECA market.

In due course, we will seek to promote naturally brewed Kikkoman Soy Sauce as a natural fit for Indian food as well, and we will showcase to all Indian customers how versatile our soy sauce is.

In terms of our approach to all Indian households, we shall be using Chinese food – which has wide acceptability in ordinary households- as a driver for our brand introduction to this market. Through our marketing activities, in the future we aim for Kikkoman Honjozo Soy Sauce to be used for Indian cuisine.

What are your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs?

Harry Hakuei Kosato: I’m not the best person honestly to give advice, because I am still now, at 32 years in business, taking advice from more established or smarter business people across the world. That being said, I would like to quote from the great, one of my heroes. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” – Steve Jobs

Mr. Harry Hakuei Kosato’s leadership at Kikkoman India embodies a dedication to heritage and quality that has made Kikkoman a household name worldwide.

With his guidance, Kikkoman continues to innovate while staying true to its centuries-old brewing methods, ensuring that the legacy of this iconic soy sauce brand endures for generations to come.

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