IPPUDO Singapore held an “Umeshu Festival” to showcase the Japanese quality of Umeshu to the world.
Hello, this is Ippudo’s note editorial team. As of 2021, Ippudo has presence in 15 countries and regions worldwide with the vision to deliver delicious ramen to every corner of the world. And note editorial team’s mission is to contribute towards this vision by sharing articles about Japanese food and culture with our readers.
In this article, we are excited to introduce the "Umeshu Festival" held in Ippudo Singapore during the Fall season of 2021. We had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Dai Kichiji, spokesperson of Dou Creations Pte Ltd – the company behind this event held in partnership with Ippudo to spread Japanese food and culture to the world, and Mr. Daisuke Fujii, general manager of the Ippudo Asia Division of Chikaranomoto Group, to share with us more about the business insights behind this event.
Dai Kichiji, 48 years old
Moved to Singapore at the age of 39 and in 2017 he started his own business Dou Creations Pte Ltd at the age of 44.
Dou Creations Pte Ltd, with its headquarter in Singapore, supports Japanese companies who are looking to expand into the ASEAN region by providing consultation on business strategy, product strategy, and marketing strategy. Since December 2019, he has been involved in the business expansion of Osaka-based Umeshuya Co., Ltd. in Singapore, by organising customer outreach events and roadshows to drive business growth and sales for the company. And in August 2021, Umeshuya opened a limited-time-only store at the basement of Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Singapore.
Fujii Daisuke, 43 years old
Chikaranomoto Global Holdings Director, General Manager of Asia Business Headquarters.
Joined Chikaranomoto Group in 2010 and started with operating Ippudo’s domestic stores before moving on to running the business management operations and special projects, like IPO etc., at the Group’s business management headquarters. Assigned to overseas businesses from 2018 and was relocated to Singapore in 2019. Currently, he is in charge of overseeing Ippudo’s business in the Asia and Oceania regions which include 4 direct-managed countries and 7 licensed countries.
"UMESHU FESTIVAL" IN SINGAPORE
Can you tell us about the "Umeshu Festival" event held at Ippudo Singapore?
Fujii: “The "Umeshu Festival" was held at Ippudo’s Shaw Centre store in Singapore over three days from September 21st to 23rd, 2021.”
“Since 2020, Ippudo Singapore has been organising monthly Sake tasting events where customers can try different types of sakes with food pairings at a reasonable price. The food pairing selections are carefully selected from ingredients that are specially imported from Japan. And the popularity of the event has grown to the effect that customers are always looking forward to our next Sake tasting. So we are always looking to bring in something new and exciting for our customers and that’s when I met Mr. Kichiji who attended one of our Sake tasting events.”
Kichiji: “We sell rare plum wines from Japan, which is very rare even in Japan. And in Singapore, not many customers know much about Umeshu. When we introduce Umeshu to the Singapore customers, their first impression is usually “What is plum wine?”
“We will try to explain that Umeshu is like Japanese fruit wine, in order to get the customers to be interested to know more. And it has been a challenge getting customers to know more about our products. We were thinking of other ways for customers to know more about our products and we thought what better way than for customers to try it themselves? But with the COVID-19 situation, it was not possible to organise customer events and even after the restrictions were relaxed it was hard to find a suitable venue to hold such events. It was then that I attended Ippudo’s Sake tasting event where I met Mr. Fujii.”
That’s when we decided to collaborate on this event to spread Japanese Umeshu in Singapore, much like Ippudo’s vision to deliver Japanese ramen to the world.
Fujii: “Yes, it's similar to when Ippudo entered the foreign market to promote our ramen more than 10 years ago. We thought, Japanese ramen culture is different from the noodle cultures in other parts of the world and this is worth spreading to the world. We were confident about the business opportunities of promoting our ramen in Singapore."
“When Ippudo entered the Singapore market, the perception of ramen was that it’s a Chinese noodle dish that’s closely associated with the local food culture. There was a “high wall” to convince the local customers that Japanese ramen is a unique part of Japanese food culture. And customers will even question why the soup in Ippudo's ramen looks so ‘cloudy-white’ in colour?”
“And in Singapore, unlike Japan, customers are not used to sitting at the counter eating and drinking by themselves. So during the initial phase of Ippudo’s expansion, we created a comfortable dining environment for customers by having spacious tables that customers can dine in as a group with family and friends, and expanded the side dishes selection for communal sharing around the table. We also put in lots of efforts to educate customers about what is unique about Ippudo’s ramen style – the origin of our ramen from Kyuhu, Japan, where we use pork bone soup. This challenge to differentiate Ippudo’s ramen from the local food culture is something that we face on a daily basis, even until now!”
Kichiji: “I have been away from Japan for a while now, and I find it difficult for Japanese restaurants to maintain the taste of Japan overseas, even in Singapore.”
“Although it is easy to ‘localize’ Japanese food to suit the local clientele, the taste will be very far from the quality you can expect of Japanese food that originated in Japan. With the growing number of Japanese chefs in Singapore, Japanese customers will know the difference and even the local customers are more discerning nowadays and they are looking for authentic Japanese food.”
“To successfully promote the Japanese food business, it is necessary to have a delicate balance that will satisfy Japanese and local customers alike, and I think Ippudo has been able to do that by earning the support and loyalty of customers.”
How was the Umeshu served during the event?
Kichiji: “First of all, we brought in 27 types of unique plum wine scoured from all over Japan. They were all presented on a counter table in Ippudo's store for customers to see and they were impressed by the fact that there are so many kinds of plum wines from Japan. While introducing that plum wine is a standard drink in Japan, we also let the customers experience the wide range of types and tastes that plum wine boasts - much like sake.”
Umeshu list for the event
Kichiji: “The method of serving plum wine to customers is to allow the customers to taste and compare three types of plum wine. After the customer chose the three types of plum wines they want, we pour them into a wine glass and sell them as a set. It was an enjoyable experience to engage with the customers, and I had a great time coordinating the preparations with the team from Ippudo.”
“In Japan, it is quite rare for a restaurant to hold an event where you can choose from so many types of plum wine to taste. But with the cooperation of Ippudo, we were able to offer them to customers at a reasonable price.”
Kichiji: “Is there a high level of attention, trust, expectations, and interest in Japanese products such as Japanese food and Japanese sake? In general, Singapore customers are very interested to try Japanese products. The reactions from customers during the event were good, and even walk-in customers who only knew about the event that day purchased plum wine happily. Some customers even bought 5 to 6 bottles carrying them with both of their hands. I was very surprised and delighted at the same time by that.”
Fujii: “In Singapore, I get the impression that most customers don't drink much at restaurants. The alcohol tax is high so if you purchase a drink from the store it will be quite expensive (laughs). But I am confident in the demand for plum wine from takeaway sale and for gifting.”
Kichiji: “Generally, to maintain the aroma of plum wine, it is ideal to drink up after opening the bottle. So for customers who prefer to drink little by little at home, we recommend whiskey and brandy-based plum wines that can be enjoyed for a relatively longer period even after opening the bottle. I think that the positive sales performance from the event was possible because there were many kinds of plum wine available for tasting and the dining environment was conducive for enjoying the plum wine and having a conversation with friends, topped off with the food pairing and explanation in-depths about the plum wine.”
Is there also high expectation for Japanese food?
Fujii: “In Singapore, there’s not much locally grown produce due to land scarcity and have to rely on importing food products mostly. And in recent years, its economic power has grown to be one of the highest in the world. Therefore, in this country, it has come to be known even from abroad as "a place to find good things." Many people have come to appreciate and trust in the high standards of "Japanese Quality" foods.”
Kichiji: “That's right. First of all, I think it is based on respect for Japanese products. The wealthy customers who used to travel to Japan can no longer travel due to COVID-19, and they are looking for quality products from around the world, including from Japan, in Singapore. And I feel that the way of enjoying Japanese quality products is allowing not only the wealthy to enjoy them, but everyone!”
“Originally, expectations for Japanese products are quite high, so if you try drinking plum wine the degree of purchase will change dramatically. As with the ramen I mentioned at the beginning, popular Japanese products are the first thing that foreigners usually buy. In order for a product like plum wine to grow as a business, the challenge is to tell the story and origin of the product before it is able to gain acceptance from customers which in turn translates into sales.”
“Of course, it is a challenge to build awareness for plum wine, but it is also extremely rewarding and fun. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's even harder than before. But in order to let more customers know more about the goodness of the product, I hope to hold a tasting event with sake brewers and producers in the near future. As I believe there are growing interests from Singapore customers who are interested in the story of the product. And I would keep spreading the story and the "Japanese Quality" of our plum wine to customers.”
How did the event come about?
Kichiji-san, how did you come to know Ippudo?
Kichiji: “When I was still working in Japan during my previous job, I had to travel around Japan often for business. Around the year 1998, I was in Fukuoka and I patronised the main store of Ippudo (laughs) and I fell in love with Ippudo’s ramen. I become quite a fan of Ippudo since.
After I relocated to Singapore, I still visit Ippudo for lunch and drinks quite often. So partly the reason why I wanted to hold the Umeshu Festival in Ippudo was because I am an Ippudo fan myself.”
“Before COVID-19, I traveled around Asia for work very often. But when COVID-19 happened, travel came to a standstill and I had more time to work in Singapore. And during a business seminar, where I was a speaker, I met Mr. Fujii and through our conversations the idea to hold an Umeshu Festival in Ippudo came about.”
Fujii: “That’s right! If it weren't for COVID-19, we wouldn't have met each other. As I had to travel very often for work as well before COVID-19 happened.”
Why did you decide to hold a plum wine event at Ippudo?
Kichiji: “In the past, I tried doing it in a wine bar but it was difficult trying to explain to customers how plum wine is different from regular wine and the majority of the customers who go to a wine bar only want to drink wine. So it got me thinking, "Is there a better place to promote plum wine?"
“At that time, Mr. Fujii said, "Ippudo holds regular sake tasting events and plum wine tasting will be something interesting for the customers". And in a relaxed dining environment like Ippudo, we can showcase the unique characters of plum wine through food pairings. Ippudo's customers will also have opportunity to enjoy a new experience. Furthermore, Ippudo’s venue is very suitable to showcase our range of plum wine so I thought it might be the best place to organise the event.”
Fujii: “Thanks to your faith in Ippudo we were able to have a very successful event. The response from customers exceeded our expectations and our customers enjoyed it very much. Compared to the usual sake events we organised, for this event we noticed that there were more ladies who attended. Does this mean that ladies prefer plum wine? I think this is an interesting behaviour that need deeper understanding.”
Kichiji: “That's right. Men are more likely to choose whiskey or brandy-based plum wine, which are less sweet. One of the success factor for this event is that we were able to introduce many varieties of plum wine and customers were able to choose and taste three types of plum wine.”
Do you plan to have more of this event in the future?
Fujii: “The response from our customers was good, so definitely I would like to consider holding another Umeshu Festival at Ippudo. And hopefully the COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed, then we could consider organising it at a larger store like Ippudo Marina Bay Sands or Ippudo Raffles City where we could accommodate more customers. I think it is the perfect fit for Ippudo to be introducing plum wine, one of the culture of the Japanese, to our customers and convey the appeal of authentic Japanese food. This is something very meaningful to us.”
(* As of November 2021, one of the COVID-19 regulations in Singapore is the limitation of dining in restaurants to 2 people per group)
IPPUDO Raffles City
Kichiji: “If we can organise this event on a regular basis, we can even introduce more types of plum wine to Singaporeans. Umeshu has a very interesting character because the taste changes depending on the type of liquor used as the base, in addition to the manufacturing method. Next time, I would like to introduce the Yuzu and peach fruit wine, too.”
Fujii: “Sounds fun! But please make sure when we offer 30 types of plum wines it must be a sell out, Mr. Kichiji! Please sell out! Thank you (laughs).”
The future of IPPUDO Singapore
May I ask what the future business outlook for Singapore is like?
Fujii: “Ippudo will continue to open more stores and we already have plans to open a few new stores in Singapore for the next 1-2 years. And I would like to consider creating a store with a concept that can display about 50 to 100 types of sake and plum wine and we can hold such tasting events regularly.”
“It has been more than a decade since Ippudo expanded into Singapore and Asia. The number of stores has exceeded 10 in Singapore alone and has expanded to over 100 in Asia as a whole.”
“Ippudo has achieved this not just because of our strength, but also because of our strong support of spreading Japanese culture in what we do and the support of everyone in Singapore and Asia. Looking back on the past 10 years, and considering the future, it is important and meaningful for Ippudo to stay true to our course of bringing Japanese culture to our customers and loyal fans. Ippudo will continue to focus on our signature "Tonkotsu Ramen," but we will also introduce more of Japanese culture, expand the Japanese industry and have cultural exchanges between Japan and Singapore, and Asia. This is something that I hope to achieve and feel strongly about (laughs)!”
Kichiji: “I feel that there are still many Japanese products that have not been marketed overseas because the domestic market is too big. It will take a lot of time and efforts to carefully incorporate each of these into a form that can be conveyed to foreigners and grow in popularity, but I think it is my life work to achieve that. There are so many quality Japanese products and services out there, so I don't think we'll be able to bring all of them overseas. We also want to strengthen the overseas expansion of Japanese anime content, movies, games, etc. There are many such works with good momentum these days, so please look forward to them as well. Since I can't go back to Japan, it makes me happy to be able to convey the gifts from Japan overseas as much as possible.”
Fujii: “If everything goes well, let's expand to Jakarta and other countries next!”
Kichiji: “Sure! Let’s look forward to that!”
Thank you, Mr. Yoshiji and Mr. Fujii!
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