A former castle town flanked by Mt. Zao to the east and Mt. Gassan to the west, Yamagata is a city steeped in historical legacy, cultural tradition and rich natural beauty all year round. You could find history, culture and its liveliness whereever you go in Yamagata. These were my first impressions when I visited the beautiful city of Yamagata last week.
The reason for my visit to the city was to get first-hand knowledge about the first Halal Soy Sauce Maker in Yamagata Pref., Marujyu, a 170-year old company being headed by Mr. Tomoaki Sato. I was warmly greeted by the president of the company, Mr. Sato and his staff on the morning of May 26, and later, had a very informative discussion with him about the long history of his company and his current plans to market its halal soy sauce to Muslim markets like Malaysia, Indonesia etc.
Following is a detail of the questions and answer session we had at his office.
Q: Could you please let me know little bit about your background and how and when this company was established?
Ans: My name is Tomoaki Sato. I am the current president of the company. Our forefathers established this company in 1844, eight generations ago. We were established as a benihana (safflower) merchandiser. Like ai (Japanese indigo), Yamagata’s benihana was highly treasured as a material for rouge and for dyeing Kyoto fabrics. Our merchandise was shipped to Kyoto and Osaka by way of the Mogami River via small shipliners of the time.
At that time, our customers in Kyoto and Osaka started importing Benihana from foreign countries due to which our sales suffered badly. As a result of this, the management at that time, changed their business model and established our brewery in the mid-Meiji era(1869-1911) to make Miso initially, and later on, added soy suace in our product line.
Over the years, we perfected our miso soup and soy sauce processes, and, since 1964, we have the same product line.
Q: Which countries are you currently exporting your soy sauce products to?
Ans: Currently, we export our soy sauce products to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Africa. However, the share of our exports to these countries is a mere 10% of our total sales volume.
Q: How did you think about the concept of Halal?
Ans: I visited one of my old Muslim friend in Bangladesh in 2011. He is planning to run a halal Japanese restaurant for his Muslim customers in Bangladesh. He needed Halal soy sauce to serve his local Muslim customers. He kept asking me to produce halal soy sauce. However, after the announcement of Tokyo Olympics in 2020, I finally decided to make halal sauce to serve our Muslim customers and to serve the global halal market.
I participated in a study session with Japan Halal Association, an Osaka-based nonprofit organisation in June, 2013. Finally, after completing the lengthy compliance procedures, we have got the halal certification for our soy sauce.
Q: What are your plans for going global for your halal products?
Ans: As a first step, we want to supply our soy sauce to the hotels in Japan. Then, we may go to Malaysia market and the Middle Eastern markets. However, currently, we are studying the local consumer markets in these countries to have a better understanding of how consumers actually buy these products and in which quantities for how much prices. Oncewe have gatherd the necessary market infor, we plan to introduce our halal soy sauce to the world.
Q: Thank you for your valuable time talking to us.
Ans: Thank you too.