Kashiwa Sato and Nissin
Japanese food company Nissin was founded by a visionary entrepreneur Momofuku Ando (1910-2007), who literally single-handedly invented its signature “Cup Noodles” in his small shed during the post WWII social turmoil/food shortage. Launched in 1958, the product became a big hit in Japan, and soon after, it started the whole “instant ramen” frenzy in many parts of the world. Ando may be one of the few business leaders that helped shape Japan’s post-war economy that offered high quality products at reasonable prices supported by hard-working people.
Today in Japan, Nissin is a beloved company that offers popular instant foods, among other products, AND entertains people with its humorous, witty marketing and communication. The combination of trusted product quality and the playfulness (which implies Ando’s innovative spirits) attracts consumers, especially young people: Nissin is one of the most popular companies among Japanese college students who start looking for a job. And Kashiwa Sato has been behind Nissin’s branding/marketing that has had many “viral” moments over the last decade or so. Ever since he supervised the establishment of the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum in Kanagawa, Japan in 2011 – which remains to be a very popular destination for families – Sato has been involved in many projects that cemented Nissin as one of people’s favorited brands.
Hard-boiled comic-style corporate chronicle
When the Cup Noodles celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2018, Sato proposed that Nissin compile its 60 years chronicle using “manga” as a medium. That’s already a bold idea for a food company, but Sato went on to appoint Takashi Okazaki, a relatively unknown manga artist who became popular in the US with his “Afro Samurai,” a rather violent Black samurai revenge story that transplanted medieval samurai to an apocalyptic, cyberpunk world. Okazaki wrote “Samurai Noodles” for Nissin, starring company founder Momofuku Ando as a “hard-boiled” samurai. Amid post-WWII food shortage, Ando the samurai stoically works day and night to develop a noodle product affordable and accessible by hungry people. When he finally commercializes “Cup Noodles” after overcoming many hurdles, he sails into a global market to pursue his mission to deliver good food products that can make people happy and bring peace. It would have been a feel-good corporate success story if it were written as a regular corporate history, but as Sato added graphic novel/comic book-like excessive exaggeration, the “Samurai Noodle” also became a piece of entertainment that made people chuckle or smirk. Sato also didn’t forget to send the most important message: Nissin is committed to remain the “originator” of affordable food products that make people happy.
Curry is believed to have been brought to Japan via England in the late 19th century. Apparently Japanese loved it so much: it is now one of most popular meals in Japan, although it became quite different from the original Indian-style curry. Japanese curry has stew-like ingredients and texture, and is served over short-grain rice. Because of Japanese’ obsession with curry and rice, Nissin had attempted to market “instant” curry (and rice) in a hope to expand its product family outside noodles. Unfortunately, previous two products didn’t go well. But when Sato took charge of the branding, it was the “third time’s a charm.” As Sato has been the mastermind of Nissin’s branding that now takes pride in doing unthinkable, weird things, he proposed to make its new product so that people react: “I know this is pretty epic but don’t even know what the heck it is…”
In Japanese’ mind, curry is almost always over rice, and devoid of porridge-ish texture. But with “instant” version, you have to mix ingredients and rice after pouring in hot water (and wait for 5 minutes, just like Cup Noodles). If consumers expect instant version of traditional curry (over) rice, they will be disappointed. Sato proposed to market the new product as different, and named it curry-meshi (meshi means “rice” in Japanese, as opposed to “curry-raisu,” which is how they call traditional curry and rice.) The commercials are weird, the mascot of the product is weird, and the flavors are also weird. After Sato’s re-branding, curry-meshi’s sales increased by 17 times.