Ben and Jerrys: Finding the right flavours for the Japanese Market


Consumer research and feedback said they did not like the lumps. But a deeper understanding explained what it was that was not working and how to fix it for this specific market.


Background – An important new market but a big problem

Ben and Jerry’s were about to make a third attempt at launching into the rapidly developing ice cream market in Japan. Two previous attempts had been unsuccessful and this third one was not looking good as all their research was telling them that the Japanese consumers did not like the “bits” in their ice cream.

This was a big problem for a brand that is predicated upon the additions that it has in all its flavours.

The Question – Why are Japanese consumers rejecting our additions

The Marketing Clinic were asked to go to Japan and find out what the real issue was and if Ben and Jerry’s ice cream really was a non-starter in this market. Alternatively, how could Ben and Jerry’s turn this around and make its distinctive trademark ‘additions’ a successful differentiator in this market as it was elsewhere.

The Marketing Clinic Approach – Understanding the difference between American and Japanese Consumers

We profiled the emotional journeys of a number of Ben and Jerry’s and competitive flavours with consumers in Japan. Sitting in Tokyo eating ice cream – it was a tough job, but someone had to do it.

What very quickly became apparent to us was that it was not the bits per-se that the consumers disliked but the journey that many of these bits took the consumers on.

Ben and Jerry’s is an American brand and most of their flavours had been developed in America for Americans. You start with a sweet ice cream and add popular confectionary pieces into that. This gives you intense textural contrasts and a multi-stage consumption experience as the ice cream melts and you then chew or crunch the confectionary.

In most cases the additions are even sweeter than the ice cream and thus sweetness builds upon sweetness. In the USA, Europe and even in many South East Asian markets this is generally regarded as an indulgence and is an integral part of their consumers’ love of the brand. In Japan such sweetness is challenging.

While the sweetness of ice cream was part of its attraction, as the additions built upon this sweetness it became too challenging for these consumers who would then report that they liked the ice cream but not the “bits”.

The Outcome – A successful launch

We showed that when savoury or less-sweet additions were added to the ice cream the same Japanese consumers loved Ben and Jerry’s – “bits” and all.

We then worked with the B&J team to draw up a list of existing flavours that would work in Japan, prioritising the strongest as launch flavours. We were also able to develop a product development brief for potential new flavours.

Ben and Jerry’s went on to launch successfully into the Japanese market and now have a very healthy mini pot business and a number of scoop shops across the country with a selection of global/US flavours alongside specific Japanese and SE Asian flavours.