[From May Issue 2015]
In Japan, fried carbohydrate snacks of corn, potatoes, or beans, are called “snack gashi.” CALBEE, Inc. products account for a 50% share of this market. The word Calbee is neither Japanese nor English. It conveys the sentiments of the company’s founder who was thinking of the nation’s good health when he coined the word.
Founded in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1949, the company was formerly known as Matsuo Food Industries. MATSUO Takashi, then president, was concerned about malnutrition among post-war Japanese people and aimed to create products that would improve the health of consumers. The company name was changed in 1955 to Calbee Foods and Confectionery Co., Ltd.; a name that combines calcium, “cal,” and vitamin B1, “bee.”
In that same year, the company succeeded in making arare (roasted mochi pieces) from wheat rather than rice – the main ingredient up until then – and marketed it as “Kappa Arare.” In 1964, “Kappa Ebisen,” a snack made from mixing ground raw shrimp into wheat dough, was developed. It became a big hit and the jingle “I can’t stop, I won’t stop, Calbee, Kappa Ebisen” made the Calbee name popular throughout the nation.
The year 1972 saw the launch of the potato based snack, “Sapporo Potato.” The company’s name was shortened to CALBEE, Inc. when its head office moved from Hiroshima to Tokyo in 1973. In 1975, “Potato Chips” was launched, a snack which later became one of the company’s core products. In 1985, the material used in the packaging of all products was switched from vinyl to aluminum film. This prevented any loss of flavor caused by oxidation.
Calbee takes great care in its control of raw ingredients. For example, shrimps – one of the ingredients in Kappa Ebisen – are carefully selected, flash-frozen while fresh to a temperature lower than -30 °C and transported to the factory. In the factory, the entire shrimp, including shell, is ground up and used. Red particles on the exterior of Kappa Ebisen are proof that the whole of the shrimp is used.
Approximately 330 thousand tons of potatoes are procured yearly to make potato chips and other products. From breeding potato varieties to cultivation, to storage, to transportation, to sales, an agreement has been made with other manufacturers to work in cooperation with each other to ensure the entire process goes smoothly. Currently more than 1,000 producers in the Hokkaido area alone have entered into this contract. The so-called field men of Calbee Potato, Inc. (an affiliated company in charge of potato procurement, storage, etc.) support the producers with surveys, advice and an exchange of information concerning cultivation.
Calbee products are consumed in ten other countries. For example, “Harvest Snaps” made from beans are popular in the US, Canada, and the UK. In Singapore, “Hot & Spicy” potato chips are a hit and in Thailand, “Kappa Ebisen Original” – developed locally for the Thai palate – is selling well.
The total number of products produced by Calbee in Japan in the financial year of 2013 was 1.8 billion. The company organizes “Calbee Snack Schools” to teach children how to have a healthy enjoyable diet. In 2013 62,251 children in 787 schools across the nation attended the course. This project not only increases the number of Calbee fans, but is also the company’s way of contributing to regional development.
Text: ITO Koichi