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This week’s featured article

TOMOKO OTAKE, THE JAPAN TIMES

U.S. fast food chain Taco Bell Corp. made a much-hyped re-entry into the Japanese market on Tuesday, opening a store in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward through Asrapport Dining Co., a Japanese operator of restaurant franchises.

The U.S. restaurant chain, known for its Mexican-inspired menu, operated restaurants in Japan in the late 1980s but later pulled out, with the exception of outlets at U.S. military bases.

On Tuesday morning, Taco Bell aficionados were out in force, lining up before the doors opened. At 10 a.m., as bells rang, an English-speaking staffer and the mascot, named Taco Man, led customers in one by one.

The chain’s foray into Japan comes at a time when a handful of U.S. dining chains, including Carl’s Jr. and Shake Shack, are planning to enter the Japanese market, aiming to attract not just domestic customers but also increasing numbers of foreign visitors ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Melissa Lora, president of Taco Bell International, is optimistic that the firm’s second crack at the nation’s ¥24 trillion restaurant market will succeed, stressing the market environment is better than in the late 1980s.

“The world has changed,” Lora said. “Back then, no one took pictures of the food. With social media and all the focus on new, interesting foods that are in the world today, we feel now is the perfect time to come into Japan.”

Unfortunately, prices will also be Japanese-style: Most dishes cost ¥500 or ¥600, with the cheapest taco on the menu — a beef crunchy taco — priced at ¥270.

Asrapport Dining official Mike Morizumi said the higher prices were inevitable due to the yen’s rapid depreciation over the past two years and because the restaurant chain sees little benefit from economies of scale in Japan at the moment, with just one location. The firm aims to open 15 outlets nationwide within five years, he said.

Some customers said the prices might be too stiff.

“Taco Bell in America is famous for cheap tacos,” a customer said. “If they cost ¥200 or ¥300, it would be (the same as) a regular restaurant.”

First published in The Japan Times on April 22.

Warm up

One-minute chat about “Eating out.”

Game

Collect words related to food; e.g., “restaurant,” “drink,” etc.

New words

1) hype: exaggeratedly promote; e.g., “He planned a campaign to hype his new business.”

2) aficionados: enthusiastic fans; e.g., “The new products have attracted many aficionados.”

3) foray: a sudden attack into enemy territory, or an effort to try something new; e.g., “They are planning a foray into a new field.”

4) inevitable: cannot be avoided; e.g., “Sorry, but this is inevitable.”

Guess the headline

T_ _ _ _ _ _ _ returns to Japan with launch of Sh_ _ _ _ _ outlet

Questions

1) Is the new Taco Bell in Shibuya their very first shop in Japan?

2) What difference is mentioned between now and the late ’80s?

3) According to the article, what is Taco Bell’s current business plan?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Would you like to go Taco Bell? Why (or why not)?

2) Do you think Taco Bell can be a competitive brand in Japan?

3) What do you think should Taco Bell focus on in order to succeed in Japan?

Reference

話題のお店、流行りのものにどの位の興味をお持ちでしょうか。ファッションだけでなく、飲食業界においてもブランド力は大きく、特に世界的に有名になった海外ブランドが日本に上陸するとなればその話題性は絶大です。流行の最先端を味わいに多くの人が行列をなす様子がニュースとなり、さらにそのニュースを見た人がお店に行く・・という循環が続きます。 しかし、その話題性は何年も続くものではありません。話題性ではなくその味やサービスで顧客を集められるような転換期が無ければ、昔流行った店としてすたれてしまうでしょう。日本での展開を続ける海外飲食ブランドを見ても、業績不調が顕著なブランド、順調に日本に浸透しているブランド、その勝敗はさまざまです。さて、タコベルは勝者となることができるでしょうか。

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