Investing in Japan
Success Stories Dandelion Chocolate Japan
The San Francisco-based craft chocolate company Dandelion Chocolate established a Japanese subsidiary in Tokyo in May 2015, with the Japanese shop it opened the following February becoming its first overseas store. The shop has a café next to its chocolate atelier, where the entire chocolate creating process from preparing cacao beans purchased at the farm and roasting to shaping are conducted. We interviewed Seiji Horibuchi, CEO of the Japanese subsidiary that has introduced the new chocolate culture called "Bean to Bar" from the US, and we asked about the company's local operations and future prospects.
Dandelion Chocolate is a craft chocolate company based in San Francisco, a city well-known for innovation. The company started from a home garage where Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring, who were then IT entrepreneurs, began making chocolate through a process of trial and error. Before its opening in Japan, the company had already become well known in the US for their persistent dedication toward quality and the manufacturing process.
With locations in San Francisco, the chocolatier established its Japanese entity in the Kuramae district of Tokyo in May 2015. The shop it opened the following February was its first overseas sales base. Seiji Horibuchi, Dandelion Chocolate Japan's CEO, who told us that his life motto is to "be free," went over to the US after graduating from university, being attracted to the relaxed atmosphere of San Francisco. During his 40 years of living there, he played a great role in establishing a cultural bridge between the US and Japan. He was particularly known as a leading figure in the spread of Japanese manga culture to the US and also helped to bring the San Francisco-based coffee shop Blue Bottle Coffee, famous for its "third-wave coffee," to Japan.
New “Bean to Bar” movement
"Bean to Bar" is used to describe a new chocolate culture started in the US and inspired by various craft movements which celebrate handmade goods. It refers to the consolidated process of making chocolate “from the cacao bean to the final chocolate bar.” From about 10 years ago, craft chocolate shops started to appear in various locations around the US and now there are reportedly about 200 of them. “The era has shifted from mass production, mass consumption to small-scale production, small-scale consumption with care focused on each step of the process,” Mr. Horibuchi said.
Dandelion Chocolate's business volume is relatively large within the craft chocolate industry and the company is the only one in the US to offer a factory-café style shop where the café is right next to the factory. Cacao beans are purchased not through a trading company or wholesaler, but by employees of the company itself visiting farms around the world. The unique taste of its chocolate is expressed by using cacao beans of a single origin and organic cane sugar exclusively. Furthermore, in order to increase its transparency, the company publishes a sourcing report with details of its purchasing process such as which farm in which country the cacao beans come from and how much was bought at what price.
“To share one's philosophy and manufacturing method openly is the most fundamental spirit of craft business. Just as the IT industry in Silicon Valley has grown into a land of innovation through the accumulation of useful information and ideas through open sharing, the craft chocolate industry will also continue to develop around the world as a new industry by making its information public. It is our mission to spread that movement,” said Mr. Horibuchi with a look of passion in his eye. The company regularly offers workshops and factory tours to deepen people’s understanding of craft chocolate.
Collaboration with local community
Instead of a more central location with a higher concentration of people, Dandelion Chocolate Japan chose Kuramae, in Tokyo's Taito Ward, as the location for its first shop, a district where Japanese tradition and craftsmanship are active and very much alive. Kuramae has long been famous as a downtown area where monozukuri (craftsmanship) has proliferated, and it was Dandelion Chocolate's sympathy with this monozukuri spirit as a chocolate maker that cemented its decision.
The shop’s popular menu item “Kuramae Hot Chocolate” uses hojicha (roasted green tea) from the Nakamura Tea Life Store in the same Kuramae area, which in turn is made from carefully selected tea leaves grown on an independent farm with a history of 100 years in Shizuoka. Simple tableware used at the café is produced through collaboration with Otani Ware of Tokushima providing a warm atmosphere. Treasuring the local community and traditional culture is also a defining characteristic of craft culture.
Such collaboration with the community has made the company a popular topic in the media, with coverage by over 200 outlets—from TV and magazines to websites—before and after its opening in Japan. This helped result in a queue of 200 people before its opening on the first day. The shop continues to gain much media attention with the arrival of the new "Bean to Bar" chocolate culture as well as for its location.
Story of its opening and establishment of location in Japan.
In Japan, which is currently in the midst of a surge in craft movements where high-quality goods are provided in small quantities, more people are becoming particular about what they consume if the recent trends such as craft beer and craft coffee are anything to go by. “From my experience of bringing Blue Bottle Coffee into Japan, I was sure that craft chocolate would be welcomed by the Japanese people,” says Mr. Horibuchi. And as he predicted, young people with a sense for new things became trendsetters and now nearly 1,000 people, regardless of gender or age, from the young and families to the elderly, visit the shop every day.
Regarding the establishment of the local subsidiary, the CEO says “In Japan we managed to open our first shop three months after the start of construction. This would take at least a year in America. In America, each step needs to be cleared by detailed regulations and the process is extremely complicated. It was very helpful having designers and craftspeople engage in close communication to respond to our arduous requests,” he said while reminiscing on the start of their operation. The company is apparently considering opening more shops following its success in Kuramae.
For the establishment of its Japanese entity, the JETRO Invest Japan Business Support Center (IBSC) provided a temporary office and information related to visas and incentives. “The temporary office used during the preparatory period for incorporation was really wonderful. It was located in central Akasaka and convenient with everything there including a post office, hospital, drug stores and restaurants. We were able to use it free-of-charge for only 50 days but it was so comfortable that I wanted to stay for another three months. If another opportunity arises, I would like to ask JETRO for their support again for sure,” said Mr. Horibuchi.
CEO Seiji Horibuchi Dandelion Chocolate Japan
(Interviewed in September 2016)
|2010||Dandelion Chocolate established in San Francisco, US|
|May 2015||Dandelion Chocolate Japan established in Kuramae, Tokyo|
|February 2016||Opening of Kuramae shop|
Dandelion Chocolate Japan
Manufacturing chocolate, sales of chocolates and processed chocolate
importing and sales of cacao beans, café operation
|Parent company||Dandelion Chocolate|
|Address||4-14-6 Kuramae, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0051|
- Provision of temporary office
- Provision of information related to visas and incentives