TOKYO: Singapore bak kwa brand Bee Cheng Hiang opened its first store in Japan last Thursday (Sep 22), after close to two decades of trying to enter the market.
The key regulatory hurdles include getting permits to import fresh pork slices from Singapore, and to barbeque these in-store.
“There were a lot regulatory requirements, there were a lot of government to government negotiations, as well as clearing of the permits,” said Bee Cheng Hiang group general manager Daniel Wong, adding that Bee Cheng Hiang received support from government agencies International Enterprise Singapore and the Japan External Trade Organization.
“We also had to explain to the landlords, property agents that the in-store barbeque is a feature in all Bee Cheng Hiang stores worldwide. It took them a while to understand what the concept is about, and how we display and sell the items.”
Japan is the 11th overseas market for the sliced barbequed pork maker, who told Channel NewsAsia that customer response has been “very positive”.
Although the iconic Singapore brand declined to reveal business numbers, it is so encouraged by the demand that it plans to open a second store in Tokyo, to complement its current outlet in Ginza.
Another reason why Bee Cheng Hiang took so long to bring their bak kwa to Japan, said Mr Wong, is that they decided to enter the market directly instead of through a local partner or franchisee.
“Without a middleman, we can cater to the customer’s needs faster. For example, we have customised our packaging to suit the local market. Packaging is something that is very important in this market,” he said.
Informed by the Japanese tradition of gift-giving, or omiyage, Bee Cheng Hiang Japan’s bak kwa are packaged differently from elsewhere.
But while the 83-year-old brand has adapted to local tastes in terms of packaging, it says it has no plans to introduce Japanese-inspired bak kwa flavours.