[From July Issue 2010]
Pan Akimoto Co., Ltd.
Pan Akimoto Co., Ltd., established in 1947, is located in Nasu-Shiobara City in Tochigi Prefecture. AKIMOTO Kenji, the father of current company president AKIMOTO Yoshihiko, founded the company under the motto “to provide safe and tasty bread,” hoping to become the bakery loved by the locals. And today, the “canned bread” that Pan Akimoto developed is receiving great international reviews.
“The Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 was the motivator. We delivered 2,000 meals of bread but they didn’t last, so we had to throw a way a portion of it. Dried bread (a simple type of cracker or biscuit made from flour, water, and sometimes salt) lasts longer but we heard that it was difficult to continue eating them over a long period of time,” says Akimoto. This is when his challenge to create long-lasting, fluffy bread began.
He tried various ways including vacuum packaging and freezing – but all without success. That was when he discovered the canning machine. He came up with a way to bake the dough inside the can, rather than trying to can already baked bread. Furthermore, the dough was also wrapped in special paper to keep the baked bread from sticking to the inside of the can.
After more than a year in development, the “canned bread” was finally ready. When first opened, a savory scent wafts out, revealing the fluffy bread inside. It was not a big seller in the beginning, but “when the media took it up during the Mid Niigata Prefecture Earthquake in 2004, we received orders from various local governments, firms and the general public,” recalls Akimoto.
Akimoto then established a mass-production factory in Okinawa. With hopes of exporting them in the future, he got patents for Japan, the USA, China, and Taiwan. Moreover, by changing the labels on the cans, companies and customers can personalize them into souvenirs. In Akihabara, PAN AKIMOTO sells their bread with anime characters printed on the label. And last year, their canned bread was accepted as official astronaut food.
“It is better if you don’t have to eat it since it is an emergency supply,” says Akimoto. But on the other hand, he admits that, “as a baker, I want people to eat it.” Thus the “kyu-can-cho Project” was conceived. “Canned bread” lasts 3 years, so the two-year-old reserves that local governments stock are traded in for new cans, while the older ones are then shipped to countries suffering from famine.
Akimoto pioneered new ways of baking by adapting to people’s age and societal changes. He started mobile bread vending in the 1980’s when it was not yet common. He says he inherited the spirit of challenge from his father who was an aircraft pilot-turned-baker. “Canned bread is a product that can be accepted anywhere in the world. But a firm does not grow unless the people working there grow. Our current issue is to strengthen the humanity of our employees.”