Having pioneered new applications for seaweed alginates for the past 80 years, KIMICA continues to develop innovative alginate-based solutions in response to the demands of today’s health and environmentally-conscious world. We speak with president Fumiyoshi Kasahara to gain more insight into the wonderful properties of seaweed alginates and how KIMICA takes advantage of them to develop high-quality food and cosmetic products.
In the past few years, countries like Japan have become more environmentally aware. How are Japanese small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) adapting to this trend?
We have been working with natural algae derivatives that absorb CO2 to grow. But if left untouched, their overgrowth can lead to rotting and reintroducing harmful gases into the atmosphere. But if managed closely, what we are doing and working towards is utilizing everything to its fullest capabilities in the interest of being efficient and environmentally conscious. Adding to this, we’ve been able to use our byproducts from this to grow grapes, and who knows, maybe we’ll even start a winery!
How are you taking advantage of the growth set to hit your industry?
We believe our alginates have the most potential to grow in the food industry. We think this because, in terms of volume, alginates have the largest use in the food market. They are very applicable to the cosmetic industry, but in cosmetics, they are only used in very small volumes. So, for all the resources that go into R&D, cosmetics are almost not worth it. Instead, we want to focus on large volume zones, like the food industry. We are also looking to go into the medical and cosmetic sector, but only as an add on. For food, we want to work with staple foods, like bread and noodles, where we can incorporate lots of alginates. Our alginates are already included in most of Japan’s convenience store sandwiches. But, Japanese white sandwich bread is not very popular in the West and so our alginates don’t have much use there actually.
What has been your main competitive advantage that has created your long history of success?
We credit everything to our founder. He went through many trials and errors to find success with such a passion that resulted in getting us to where we are today. We are truly one of a kind in the volume of products that we deal with. We’ve always considered our alginates as something to nurture; we really want to cultivate and grow our resources and products. This sense of love is what sets us apart.
Can you run us through your best-selling domestic product?
Sodium alginates and Propylene Glycol Alginate (PGA) are some of our main products. These are in things like gummy candies, bakeries, noodles, beer foam, where they are used as a gelling and/or texturizing agent. Also, they can be found in salad dressings as an emulsifier and stabilizer. And because of all these varied uses, we sell these products at a very high volume.
Can you tell us about your newest products coming out?
We have an 80-year history of polishing our quality and safety standards and we are confident in how safe and useful our products are. Because of this confidence we’ve felt comfortable branching out into the production of other substances of alginic acids. Abroad, these can be produced cheaply but then they don’t meet the specific quality controls in place. That is where we step in. We know we produce top-notch products and that is why we felt ready-to-market Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC). But this was not our own doing completely, we were actually asked to create these products in line with our quality and safety standards, as other companies cannot offer that.
Does Kimica work based on client requests or enter new fields independently?
In the most recent case we talked about, we were looking for new markets to expand into and it just so happened that we found the partner who requested a product for a win-win partnership. Because Japanese standards are so high it is difficult for foreign businesses to enter the country successfully. Our corporate policy is based on constantly asking ourselves whether there is anything we can do to support our clients.
How do you find clients trying to enter the Japanese market?
This happens through our network of clients, distributors, and those that are potential foreign clients and friends. 1984 through 1985 was a really difficult time for our business. Facing strains, we had to go abroad to become successful again. This is how our Chile factory was born. Many accused us of manufacturing low-quality products that we could only get away with selling in a market like Chile. But on the contrary, we were just as dedicated to quality in Chile as we are in Japan. We had to produce this way because otherwise we would have had to compete with China, which would’ve been impossible. We decided to stay true to our quality levels and then compete in the levels of the US and EU. A US company that we thought would become our biggest competitor saw our work and wanted us to supply them with our high-quality alginate, and this huge giant ended up becoming a client of ours! This company continued to ask us for our product, but as they went through tough times of their own, they had to close down their plant and we got all of their business! Another notable partnership that has come from our unwavering commitment to doing anything and everything for our clients was with a Chinese company. Since quality controls are looser and constantly changing in China, a company we were working for needed us to deliver products that had consistent quality with each shipment. We shipped our products to China with a quality standard that is common in Japan which luckily made the same product viable in Japan, so we enjoyed many wins within one partnership. This shows also that we sometimes do not have to go through that feared competition with China as sometimes the Chinese come to us with desires for our levels of quality.
What is your international strategy?
We have offices in both Germany and the US. But what pushed us to set up these offices was the importance of being on the ground with our clients. We had a great reputation but our clients were worried about shipping from Japan and we lacked smooth communication with clients due to the language barrier. So reassuring our clients that we have stock within the country and being close by without a time difference made a big difference for our performance abroad. Being able to provide a whole range of one-stop services for our clients in their respective countries was a key driver in creating these offices. In terms of strategy and looking ahead in the US and Europe, the use of alginate has boomed but that means the market is more mature. Therefore, we don’t foresee greater growth. However, we do foresee large growth in the Asian market due to the large consumer base and the versatility of our product. Japanese convenience stores are looking to grow into the greater Asian market and bring Japanese products with them so we are excited to ride off of that wave and further penetrate that market.
Right after the interview, KIMICA was awarded the Special Award (SDGs Partnership Award) on Dec 21, 2020. KIMICA’s initiatives and activities to address Sustainable Development Goals were indeed presented and expressed by Mr. Kasahara during the interview. We are convinced this special recognition is not a big surprise but as a result of the commitment and relentless execution of work associated with SDGs over many years.