Wendy’s Hopes Brand Will Score Hit in Japan

January 29, 2012

Wendy's Hopes

Wendy’s hopes brand will score hit in Japan

Wendy’s newest restaurant opened this week, offering its sea-salt french fries and Dave’s Hot ’n Juicy burgers, along with shrimp patty sandwiches, truffle and porcini mushroom baked potatoes and melon soda.

Welcome to Tokyo.

Wendy’s Co. re-entered the Japanese market after closing all 71 of its Wendy’s restaurants in the country in December 2009.

At the time, Wendy’s cited the then-franchiser’s failure to meet expectations for development growth and reinvestment in the business.

The company announced in March that it is returning to the country with a new partner, Tokyo-based Higa Industries Co. Ltd., a food importer and distributor.

This time around, Wendy’s sees the potential for as many as 700 restaurants, spokesman Bob Bertini said.

The plan is to open 100 restaurants in Japan in five years, said Darrell van Ligten, president, international, of Wendy’s. And the new restaurants will all offer Wendy’s core products as well as feature foods designed to appeal to Japanese tastes, he said.

That includes an avocado wasabi hamburger and a truffle and porcini grilled chicken sandwich, he said.

“We’ve added a bit of the spiciness to the food, which speaks to the Japanese palate and communicates to the Japanese consumer that this concept is for them,” van Ligten said.

Perhaps the most distinctive — and costly — item is a $16.45 burger with foie gras and truffles. It’s not scheduled to show up on Wendy’s menus in the U.S., by the way.

Catering to the local consumer’s taste and food trends is key for any restaurant that looks to take its brand overseas and wants to be successful, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago restaurant- and food-research group.

Some restaurant chains have tried to re-create their concept overseas instead of adapting to that particular market, he said.

But that doesn’t always reflect well with consumers, Tristano said.

“Since Wendy’s has been in the Japanese marketplace before, they will have a base understanding of what to expect from consumers there,” he said.

“Consumers, especially younger consumers, are looking for more-adventurous flavors and foods. Restaurant operators have to understand the regional and national flavors, the food types and the consumers in order to optimize success.”

Wendy’s partner in Japan, Higa Industries, is led by Ernest Higa, who owned and operated 180 Domino’s Pizza stores in Japan before selling that business in February 2010, the company said.

Higa Industries will have a 51 percent ownership stake in the venture. Wendy’s International will own 49 percent.

Tristano, of Technomics, said he thinks Wendy’s will do well in its return to Japan.

“Wendy’s, as an American and an iconic brand, has a very high level of visibility as a global brand,” he said. “And Wendy’s has done well in the current environment in the U.S.

“And, like McDonald’s and Burger King, Wendy’s has a great chance to succeed in Japan.”

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