Vertical crowdfunding sites have been popping up in various businesses like sports or gaming. As part of this hype, Tokyo-based startup Luck recently launched a crowdfunding platform called Washoku Explorer, aiming to help foodies around the world satisfy their appetites for Japanese food.
Washoku (or Japanese food) was registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2013, which boosted the boom of Japanese food and cuisine globally. In response to this hype, the platform aims to deliver high-quality and healthy food products from Japan to the world.
More than 13 million foreign tourists visited Japan in 2014, and this number is expected to hit the 20 million annual visitors milestone by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games. According to the Japan Tourism Agency, 97% of foreign tourists have visited Japan for the purpose of eating Japanese food and cuisine, underscoring the world’s great interest in Japanese food culture.
Using the platform, food product distributors, farmers, and fisheries in Japan (dubbed ‘producer’ on the platform) are allowed to launch a crowdfunding campaign for their products. Backers, typically foodies from outside Japan, can get Japanese food products as rewards after their backing campaign is privileged.
The platform operator has an editorial team and interviews food producers (or campaign owners) to develop their crowdfunding project page in English. The platform operator provides all customer acquisition and promotional efforts, responding to inquiries from backers in foreign languages, and overseas shipping procedures including managing food exporting regulations so that campaign owners don’t have to worry about these things. Commissions will not be charged to campaign owners unless their project reaches its funding goal.
At the time of the launch, campaigning projects included a variety of food products like pickled plum of Kishu-Nankoubai from Wakayama, Goma-Kurumi Miso Tsuyu from Nagano (soybean paste-based dipping seasoning with sesame and walnut for noodles), small-fish seasoning for rice from Hiroshima, and dried judas’ ear fungus from Ibaraki. The company aims to give foreigners the opportunity to explore and discover unknown food and ingredients from Japan.
Luck aims to transact more 1.3 billion yen ($11 million) over the platform on an annual basis in three years. Luck CEO Makoto Maemura elaborated:
For a resource-poor country like Japan, food culture is a ‘killer content’ that can generate huge revenue from global markets. However, I think that food product producers in Japan that are backing the culture have not sufficiently benefited. We want to fill the supply-demand gap between foreign consumers seeking authentic food products from Japan and food product producers who are unlikely to have global sales channels and marketing experience.
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC recently held an event featuring sushi to highlight how this Japanese cuisine has been accepted as part of the local food culture in the US and has become a popular fare for Americans.
Meanwhile, Washoku Explorer showcases Japanese food that typical foreigners have never tasted or seen before. So it will be interesting to see how the company will attract people who are less familiar with these products.
Translated by Taijiro Takeda
Edited by Masaru Ikeda and Kurt Hanson