Annals of cheap: Garigari-kun

August 30th, 2009 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku


The two original flavors: “soda” (top) and “muscat of Alexandria”

It’s been a relatively cool summer overall, and while the temperatures have had something to do with the drop in sales of beer (or “beer-like” beverages) and air conditioners, it doesn’t seem to have had much of an adverse effect on Japan’s favorite packaged frozen snack, Garigari-kun, which added a few new flavors this past season.

Garigari-kun is classified as “bo (stick or bar) ice candy,” which means it has a lot of competition. Ice candy is more popular in Japan than ice cream owing to its associations with the traditional summer treat kakigori (shaved ice), and if you look in your local convenience store freezer you’ll find a large and confusing array of ice candy, both bar and cup types, that seem interchangeable. But Garigari-kun always outsells them all by a huge margin, and one of the reasons is the price: only ¥60. The Sankei-Fuji website says that the dairy company Akagi Nyugyo sold 255 million Garigari-kun bars in 2008.

Introduced in 1981, Garigari-kun was one of the first bar-type ice treats, the idea being that cup ice require two hands. The target demographic was “active” elementary school-age boys who needed at least one hand free to play whatever game they were playing while munching on Garigari-kun. And “munching” is the operative word here, not sucking. The ice that makes up the bar is filled with very small and separate ice particles that make a characteristic crunchy “garigari” sound when bitten.

The big-mouthed character adorning the package is also part of the appeal. Garigari-kun is a representative gaki-daisho, or the big kid in your gang who, despite his size, is also the most warmhearted member. He’s also assumed to be the poorest, which is why he has a typical igaguri (badly executed buzz cut) hairstyle. The product’s very low price is thus tied directly to the image that Akagi wanted to promote.

However, Garigari-kun didn’t used to be the hit product it is now. In the ’90s, Akagi conducted a survey and found that women thought the product image was too “crude” and that it reminded them of something that “probably smelled bad.” So Akagi revamped the packaging to make Garigari-kun’s visage more anime-like. The year after the change was made, sales broke the 100 million mark for the first time.

Three years ago female consumers were targeted even more aggressively with the launch of Gariko-chan, the girl cognate of Garigari-kun, and a promotional campaign that trumpeted the treat’s very low caloric content, about 70 kcal for the basic ice bar. Sales were so good that Akagi had to build another factory. In the meantime, Akagi augmented the ice candy lineup with a few flavors that use milk products, and which are priced a little higher at ¥100. This summer it added “red grape,” “cream apple” and “chocolate chip” flavors to the series, which already includes the two classic flavors “soda” and “muscat,” as well as “pineapple,” “cola,” “grapefruit,” and “cream banana.”

It’s still hot, so get your munch on.

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