TOKYO -- Japanese travel agency H.I.S. is getting into the shipping business in an effort to help Japanese businesses and farmers sell products overseas.
For its first project, the company hooked up with the Mie prefectural government to develop sales channels for mandarin oranges and tea products, and to find a way to process tea in Azerbaijan.
H.I.S. has 264 branches in 69 countries that it plans to leverage to provide marketing services, do research and develop sales channels through tie-ups with hotels and other businesses. The company said its strength lies in having branches in many markets that do little business with Japan, such as Azerbaijan.
"We're aiming for 80 million yen ($730,000) in exports in the program's first fiscal year," said Atsushi Yamanobe, an H.I.S. director and senior executive. "But we want to increase that by ten- to fifteenfold by the fifth year."
In October, the Tokyo-based travel agency signed a deal with the Mie government to promote local foods overseas. As part of the agreement, H.I.S. will help export Ise brand green-tea products and mandarin oranges.
Mie "has a well-developed culinary culture, but there were challenges in promoting the products overseas," said Gov. Eikei Suzuki.
H.I.S. wanted to "create a new business of sending not just people but things overseas, using our overseas branches," company Chairman Hideo Sawada said.
Although there is strong interest in Japan among Azerbaijanis, Japanese products are barely available in the country.
Exports of Ise tea to Azerbaijan have already begun; the tea will be sold as leaves for brewing and be used in processed foods like matcha chocolate, which is currently getting the biggest push.
Shirin, an Azerbaijani confectioner, will make the matcha chocolate using the tea leaves from Japan. The chocolate at first will be sold at local supermarkets, and eventually in Russia, Europe and the Middle East, according to current plans.
A Shirin spokesperson said the chocolate tastes close to that sold in Japan, and the company believes it will suit the local palate.
In another part of the new venture, Azerbaijanis next year will be invited to become owners of mandarin trees in Mie. Owners will be entitled to a specified volume of fruit or juice from their trees. The arrangement is aimed at stabilizing mandarin farmers' sales.
Owners can be individuals or companies, and tours will be conducted to take owners around Mie mandarin farms.
H.I.S. is not the only travel agency attempting to put its overseas branches to greater use.
JTB, Japan's largest travel agency, also offers farm goods to overseas customers via a website. Tourists visiting Japan can place orders on the site, then pick up their purchases at airports or other locations before heading home. Strawberries, grapes and other kinds of fruit are popular, according to the company.