TOKYO -- Japan's declining birthrate is not good news for the country's traditional candy stores, but the dagashi, or penny candy, industry is finding new markets all across the globe.
Small boxes of bubble gum with distinctive orange illustrations are now on sale at retailers throughout the Middle East. The products are forged versions of Marukawa Confectionary's Fusen Bubble Gum, and are made in Thailand and Indonesia. These fake products, sold cheaply in the Middle East, have become a real headache for the Nagoya-based confectioner.
About 70% of the company's overseas sales come from countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen.
Strawberry-flavored Tattoo Fusen Bubble Gums, are also popular in the Middle East. Seals on the back of the wrappers, featuring about 20 characters, can be peeled off and used as temporary tattoos after being soaked in water.
In the Middle East, Fusen Bubble Gums are available for about 7 or 8 cents. These products are made slightly smaller and cheaper than the equivalents in Japan in order to make them more affordable to local children.
The company also exports to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sales in the two countries have increased 3.5 times over the past decade, accounting for about 8% of overseas sales.
The company plans to start exporting to Kazakhstan by the end of the year. Its total sales came to about 2.5 billion yen ($23.9 million) in the fiscal year ended June 2016. Having tapped into countries even major confectioners had not entered, Marukawa has seen its overseas sales ratio reach about 30%.
Orion, an Osaka-based maker of Mini Cola and Cigarette candies, is planning to sell some 10,000 pieces on a trial basis this summer in countries such as Mongolia. In Taiwan, which accounts for about 50% of the company's total exports, tablet-shaped candies are proving popular.
At Japan Day in Duesseldorf, Germany on May 21, the Rhine was lined with young people dressed up as characters from popular Japanese animation series such as Naruto, Sailor Moon and One Piece.
Among the crowds, Umaemon was one of the characters frequently asked to pose for photographs. The character represents a puffed corn snack called Umaibo sold by Tokyo-based confectioner Yaokin.
With Umaemon at their side, Yaokin staff managed to sell out of almost 30 kinds of dagashi including Umaibo, according to a company representative.
Umaemon also appeared at Japan Expo in Paris July 7-10. Yaokin plans to start exporting to Europe after gauging the response at the expo. The company plans to begin exports to the UAE as early as August.
Japanese chocolates are proving popular among young adults as well as children. Tokyo-based Tirol-Choco exports packs of Tirol Chocolates to Taiwan, China and South Korea.
Vice president Yuji Matsuo said the company's overseas sales have grown at an annual pace of more than 30% over the past few years.
Tokyo-based Yuraku Confectionery's Black Thunder chocolate bars became immensely popular with youngsters in Taiwan after a famous celebrity blogged about them in fall 2013. In 2014, sales of Black Thunder in the country jumped 670% from the previous year.
It is not just the taste making dagashi globally popular -- affordable prices are a big advantage when exporting.
Some dagashi -- which typically sell for 10 yen to 30 yen in Japan -- are priced much lower in other countries. Major Japanese snack makers, such Ezaki Glico, Lotte and Calbee, also sell their products overseas, but they usually produce locally as export proves difficult for products that are sold for more than 100 yen in Japan. Dagashi's affordability makes it easier for smaller Japanese snack makers to tap into overseas markets.