Archive for the ‘Products’ Category

Pusses galore: Cats dominate the pet industry

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Free at last: Stray female cat after undergoing spaying and about to be released

Free at last: Stray female cat after undergoing spaying and about to be released

Feb. 22 was Cat Day in Japan, because “two-two” in Japanese can be uttered using an approximation of a sound that cats make. It’s a typical pseudo-event, invented by the pet food industry, which is doing quite well by cats. In fact, it’s doing better by cats than by dogs if you’re talking about growth.

According to the Japan Pet Food Association, about 10.9 million dogs and 9.7 million cats are kept as pets in Japan. The pet-related market, including medical care, is worth about ¥1.4 trillion, but while the parity between the two species as animal companions is about equal, sales of respective food products is increasing more for cats than it is for dogs.

Dog food sales peaked in 2004 at a little more than 490,000 tons and has been gradually dropping ever since. Cat food sales in 2005 was much less, about 271,000 tons, but cats tend to be smaller and thus need less food, and at any rate, sales have been steadily increasing in the meantime. In 2014, the association says that a household with at least one dog spends on average ¥2,884 a month on dog food, while a household with at least one cat spends ¥2,996.

The slight difference can be explained by a number of factors: people with cats are more likely to have more than one animal than do dog owners, and dogs eat anything. Cats’ famous finicky tastes means that cat owners will likely buy more food to make sure their pets don’t get tired of the same thing.

Another economic related difference between cats and dogs is in their trafficking. According to the Yaseisha Pet Data Yearbook, in 2006, dogs accounted for 55.8 percent of pet shop sales (¥76.2 billion) while cats only accounted for 8.2 percent (¥11.2 billion). This wide gap is easy to explain. People who want dogs are more likely to buy them since they want pedigrees, while cat lovers are less particular about breeds and can easily pick up strays or get kittens from neighbors and shelters.

More to the point, the development of a pet culture in Japan has given rise to a concurrent awareness of the sanctity of non-human lives, an awareness that, taken to its natural ends, would not countenance the trafficking of pets, because when they are sold they are at the mercy of commercial prerogatives.

Only puppies and kittens are marketable as commodities, so once a pet-for-sale reaches a certain age it has to be “disposed of.” This realization means that, in all probability, the selling of dogs and cats for profit will someday be outlawed, or, at least, phased out in some way.

The manifestation of this pet-oriented sensibility is incumbent in the satsu shobun zero movement, which has become more prominent in the public sector. On Feb. 12, 60 national lawmakers representing all political parties formed a bipartisan group that “aims” to reduce the number of dogs and cats put down at public facilities to zero by 2020, when the Tokyo Olympics takes place. Kanagawa Prefecture already accomplished this aim with regard to dogs in 2013 thanks to the help of volunteers.

The prefecture’s next goal is no killings of cats, though the relevant authorities admit it’s more difficult since many cat owners still let their pets roam outside and don’t get them neutered, thinking it’s somehow cruel. Female cats can have two litters in a single year so the problem of stray cats killing birds and bothering neighbors will never go away, and so neither will the problem of having to somehow deal with unwanted cats.

Consequently, a lot of local governments also subsidize spaying and neutering of cats. According to Tokyo Shimbun, 30 percent throughout Japan have already implemented policies that address the stray cat issue. After successfully reducing the number of dogs put down in facilities by two-thirds over a five-year period, Kochi Prefecture set aside ¥4.9 million to spay female cats — ¥6,000 for a house pet, ¥10,000 for a stray.

The higher amount for an alley cat can be seen as encouraging to the TNR movement, wherein people trap stray cats, have them neutered, and then release them back in their familiar environment. Of course, some local governments don’t like this idea at all. Kyoto has proposed an ordinance making it illegal to feed stray cats, because people who don’t like cats somehow think that feeding them increases their numbers, but if you want to control the stray cat population TNR is a much more effective means.

Though not as effective as just catching and killing them outright, which is still the norm. In 2013, 128,135 dogs and cats were put down in public facilities, of which 99,566 were cats and 59,387 kittens. One of the hallmarks of the satsu shobun zero movement is finding new homes for abandoned pets. Of the 60,811 dogs brought to facilities in 2013, 15,129 were returned to their owners, since they were lost dogs, and 16,950 found new homes through adoption services.

Cats were less lucky: 115,273 were brought to facilities, with 305 returned to owners and 16,023 going to new homes. The rest were destroyed. Some local governments who have a zero-killing policy get around the problem by just not accepting abandoned animals, which is hardly a solution because in all likelihood the person who wants to bring a cat into a facility will just let it go in a local park. For the most part, a cat is abandoned because its owner’s living situation has changed and he or she can no longer keep the cat.

Government commitment is essential for reducing the number of unwanted cats, either by funding facilities that prioritize adoption or subsidizing spay-neuter operations. As it stands, the Environmental Ministry has set aside ¥100 million for pet-related matters. That means local governments have to come up with more money themselves, or pet-related NPOs have to rely on donations from concerned pet-lovers. Some people have suggested a tax on pet food that would pay for shelters and operations.

Supporters of the TNR movement point to Tokyo Chiyoda Ward as a success story. The local government pays up to ¥17,000 for male cat neutering and up to ¥20,000 for female cat spay operations. Moreover, they will pay ¥25,000 for cat abortions. Consequently, there have been no cats put down in the ward for the past several years.

Hair-care industry has anxious consumers coming and going

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Does he or doesn't he? Scalp stimulators on sale in discount drug store

Does he or doesn’t he? Scalp stimulators on sale in discount drug store

According to the Yano Research Institute, Japan’s hair-care products market in 2013 was worth a little more than ¥432 billion, a 2 percent increase over the previous year’s revenues, which is easy to believe. After cars and beer, hair-care items are probably the most advertised products on Japanese television, and the ones that saw the most growth (no pun intended) were those related to either hair-growth promotion (hatsumo/ikumo) or hair replacement, such as implants and hair pieces.

It’s hardly a surprising development demographically. As everyone knows, there are more old people in Japan every year, and thus more people with thinning hair in the population. What’s more, according to Yano, is that in line with these changes there is currently an entire “anti-aging” market that has materialized, encompassing everything from vitamin supplements to health club memberships.

Underlying it all is the sense among average Japanese, reinforced by popular culture, that they are likely to lose their hair. In fact, statistics seem to bear this feeling out, as they show that Japan is the baldest country in Asia (Czech Republic takes the honor for the world), and it isn’t just a concern for men. A large portion of the hair growth/replacement market is aimed at women.

CONTINUE READING about the hair-care industry →

Cheap smokes finally going up in price

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Lower class: the 3 most inexpensive cigarette brands

Lower class: the 3 most inexpensive cigarette brands

At the end of last year the ruling coalition studied some tax revisions for 2015 and decided to review the one for tobacco. The review mainly affects three brands, which remain cheap five years after cigarette taxes were increased considerably. These three brands — Wakaba, Echo and Golden Bat — are classified as “third-class tobacco,” which meant that their tax was half the portion levied on other cigarette brands. Apparently, the government wants to make the tax on these three brands equal to that for other brands.

The reason for the tobacco tax in the first place had nothing to do with health and everything to do with the notion that only well-off people smoked, which is the same rationale that governed the tax on alcohol. This was back in the middle 19th century. The government originally owned the tobacco monopoly and still has a hefty share of the stock in the nominally private Japan Tobacco, so the tax has always had a political dimension.

During the Meiji Era, when Japan suddenly decided it had to compete with the rest of the world, the authorities needed revenue fast, and tobacco was an easy way to get it. With the rise of the military and more involvement in foreign wars, the government supplied soldiers with free cigarettes in order to cultivate the tobacco market. Thus cigarettes became a classless commodity whose sales were spurred by its addictive nature.

CONTINUE READING about cheap cigarettes →

Cosmetics market shifts up in age

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Poster for Shiseido makeup outside discount drug retailer Matsumoto Kiyoshi

Poster for Shiseido makeup outside discount drug retailer Matsumoto Kiyoshi

You can tell how important an industry is to the media by how many news outlets cover the same story in the same way. What happened was a company put out a press release that everyone feels obligated to cover since the company is a major advertiser.

Last week everyone mentioned that cosmetics maker Kao will be coming out with a new line of eye shadow targeting older women under its Aube brand. Makeup specially formulated for older consumers isn’t a new thing, but what makes Aube Couture Bright Up Eyes of more than just passing interest is that its main appeal is the application rather than the wearing. When older eyelids become flaccid, it’s more difficult to put on eye shadow evenly, so Kao came up with a special foundation that makes it easier for the customer to apply the shadow on top of it. In addition, the case comes with a special 2X magnifying mirror for older eyesights.

Shiseido also announced a brand new line of 33 items for older women called Prior that will come out Jan. 21 and is centered on a cream that gives the skin a glossy tone which “medicates” wrinkles and age spots as a way of “reducing” them. It’s another way of saying that the cream covers them up. It also obviates the need for foundation, thus making it “easy to use.” Also, Prior’s eye shadow comes in a box with instructions in large type and photos to make it easier for consumers to understand how to apply it. CONTINUE READING about new markets for cosmetic makers

When protecting farmers hurts consumers — and farmers

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Sign in dairy case telling shoppers they are limited to only one package of butter per person

Sign in dairy case telling shoppers they are limited to only one package of butter per person

Butter isn’t as essential in Japanese cuisine as it is in certain other countries’ national styles of cooking, but it does have its place, most commonly in white sauces and baking, and anyone here who uses it regularly has had to pay premium prices for it. Lately, they’ve been paying even more.

In a recent Asahi Shimbun feature a housewife shopping in Minato Ward, Tokyo, is tempted to pick up a package of “luxury brand” butter because all the regular butter is sold out, but in the end she leaves the store without it because she just can’t see spending that much money. The article doesn’t say what that price is, but regular butter right now is said to cost “¥400 or more” for 200 grams, and the luxury butter is “twice as expensive.”

The implication is that ¥400 is already too much to pay, but in any case wherever you go, regular butter tends to be sold out, and many supermarkets now limit customers to only one package per trip. More significantly, businesses such as ramen restaurants and bakeries, which rely on butter as an essential ingredient, are also suffering from the price increase. That’s because there is an acute butter shortage.

And the reason there’s a butter shortage is that there’s a milk shortage and butter is the least prioritized of dairy products. Most milk that’s produced in Japan is sold as milk, and only when there is milk left over after being channeled into by-products like cheese and yogurt does butter get made. Unlike most other dairy products, butter can be frozen and stored for a long period of time.

CONTINUE READING about Japan's butter shortage →

European winemakers fret over competition from Chile

Monday, August 25th, 2014

The competition: Wines from Australia, Chile and France with retail prices below ¥1,000

The competition: Wines from Australia, Chile and France with retail prices below ¥1,000

During the first half of the year, sales of wine from Chile exceeded those of wines from Italy, thus making Chilean wine the second most popular imported wine in Japan, and apparently, Chile is now gaining rapidly on No. 1, France. The main reason is the Chile-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement signed in September 2007, after which the tariff on Chilean wine started to decrease gradually from the standard duty on foreign wines of either 15 percent of import price or ¥125 per liter. Right now the tariff rate for Chilean wines is 5.8 percent, and it will be zero in April 2019.

According to a Jiji Press report, the further the tariff drops, the more sales increase. More significantly, the amount of wine being imported has gone up. In 2007, when the EPA went into effect, Japan imported 10,517 kiloliters. But 2013, the volume was 36,435 kiloliters, which is an average annual growth rate of 20 percent. For the first half of this year alone, 17,349 kl entered Japan, and since the end of the year is the big season for wine, it’s clear that this year’s volume will exceed last year’s. And note that France exported 19,093 kl to Japan in the first six months of 2014.

Nevertheless, importers have told Jiji that the EPA isn’t as big an influence as it seems. One wine industry association said that Chile’s product is more suited to Japanese tastes, whatever that means. But the fact is that other wine-making countries and regions are paying close attention to the Japanese market and may be worried about Chile’s ascendance. For one thing, while sales of alcoholic beverages in general have been on the decline, the consumption of wine has been going up. At present, the average Japanese person consumes a little less than three bottles a year. Consequently, Japan signed another EPA with Australia in July. According to the terms of the agreement, the tariff on Australian wine will disappear in seven years, which is faster than the rate reduction with Chile.

So Europe is especially anxious to get its own EPA hammered out, since it’s losing ground to these New World winemakers. Wine and cheese are two of the main products under discussion.

It may already be too late. According to a report in the Hokkaido Shimbun, Hokkaido Prefecture’s most prominent convenient store chain, Seico Mart, has seen a 10 percent increase in the sale of Chilean wines over the past year, or one-fourth of the chain’s entire wine sales revenue. That’s even more than French wines. The newspaper narrows the appeal down better than Jiji, saying that Japanese people prefer the slightly sweeter flavor of Chilean wine. But the real reason is the price. The bestselling wine in the chain is a Chilean wine that goes for ¥480.

A common retail belief when it comes to selling wine to people who aren’t connoisseurs in Japan is that ¥1,000 tends to be the limit, and Chilean wine is consistently below that ceiling.

Local municipalities vie for your ‘hometown tax’

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Screen shot of web portal site for products being offered as gifts in exchange for "hometown tax" donations

Screen shot of web portal site for products being offered as gifts in exchange for “hometown tax” donations

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is already thinking about next year’s local government elections and in order to help their candidates is studying a possible increase in the maximum tax deduction afforded to people who contribute “hometown taxes” (furusato nozei), a system that was implemented in 2008 to help regional municipalities struggling with budget shortfalls.

Because an increasing portion of the population is concentrated in large metropolitan areas, local government tax bases are eroding. The hometown tax diverts some of the money people pay to big city governments to these smaller municipalities in the form of donations. In order to make the system attractive to taxpayers, the central government offered deductions not only for national income taxes, but also for local income taxes.

Taxpayers can donate funds to a local government that is different from the one where they live, and despite the name of the system it doesn’t have to be their hometown. It can be any locality. Say you live in Tokyo but you want to help out a town in Fukushima devastated in the disaster of 2011, something that many people have used the furusato nozei to do. If you donate 20,000 to that town in Fukushima through the hometown tax system you can get a deduction off your national tax bill this year, and since local income taxes are based on national income taxes, this deduction, as well as a separate deduction for charitable donations, is reflected in your local tax bill the following year, which will be lower that it would have been otherwise as a result. So for the ¥20,000 donation, the taxpayer ends up with an ¥18,000 tax savings (¥20,000 minus a ¥2,000 handling fee).

CONTINUE READING about hometown tax →

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