Business

Firms revamp menus to tap fruit of Abe's 'womenomics' pledge

by Yuki Yamaguchi

Bloomberg

While pundits ponder whether women will answer Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call to join the workforce, businesses are betting on an increase in demand for pizza and wine.

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Ltd. is giving its menu designs a feminine makeover and Suntory Holdings Ltd. is opening wine bars as an alternative to more-masculine watering holes as retailers prepare for an influx of women into Japan’s male-dominated business world.

Treasury Wine Estates Ltd. is promoting less-alcoholic brands, while FamilyMart Co. is stocking its convenience stores with healthier foods designed to appeal to women who need to pick up a quick bite on the way to work.

Companies are revamping their offerings as Abe attempts to expand the nation’s shrinking labor pool by raising the number of female managers and inspiring more women to work.

They anticipate a new generation of career women more interested in spending nights out and working moms with less time to prepare traditional cooked meals for their families.

“As more women participate in the workforce, there will be more demand for eating out and prepared food,” said Mikihiko Yamato, deputy head of research at JI Asia in Tokyo. “It makes sense for retailers and restaurants to try to capitalize on the opportunities they have missed.”

Aeon Co., Kirin Co. and other companies are giving women more prominent roles to help meet Abe’s goal of tripling the proportion of female managers to 30 percent by 2020.

Aeon, the food and clothing retailer, wants half of its managers to be women, up from the current 14.5 percent, spokeswoman Eri Ota said.

Kirin intends to boost the ratio of women in leadership positions to 12 percent in 2021 from about 4 percent last year, according to announcements posted on the drinks maker’s website.

Domino’s Pizza Enterprises — the largest franchisee of the U.S. brand — expects female customers will eventually reach levels of consumption similar to their counterparts in France, where women account for more than half of its total sales, said Don Meij, chief executive officer of the Brisbane-based company.

As a result, it is lightening the colors on its takeout menus, softening more “masculine” fonts and looking to introduce products based on research about Japanese women’s tastes.

“We need to have a female extension of the brand,” Meij said in an interview last month. That focus “is a significant culture shift, especially in the pizza business.”

The nation’s diners are increasingly looking for better-value meals that don’t have to be home-cooked, Monique Rooney, a Sydney-based analyst at Deutsche Bank AG, wrote in an April note to clients rating Domino’s as a buy.

Changing tastes are remaking breakfast tables, with some families trading traditional cooked meals such as steamed rice and fish for quicker, Western-style fare.

Calbee Inc., Japan’s biggest seller of potato chips, said in June it was considering buying yogurt makers in response to the demand.

Similarly, FamilyMart is developing sandwiches with higher-quality bread and other ingredients to provide female workers more attractive lunch options, said spokesman Shinsuke Otsuki.

The company last year assembled a team of female product developers to select food that will lure larger numbers of women into its more than 11,000 stores.

The company expects to increase its average daily sales by 1 percent by offering healthier alternatives to the greasy snacks preferred by many salarymen, Otsuki said.

It will also expand sales of stockings and skin care products to meet that goal.

Last year, a record 62.5 percent of women were in the workforce, compared with 80.6 percent among men, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s “Womenomics” report, written by a team led by chief Japan strategist Kathy Matsui.

The government intends to increase that number further to prevent the labor force from shrinking to an estimated 38 million people in 2060, down from 66 million now, according to the Cabinet Office.

Bar and cafe operators, such as Pronto Corp., anticipate that an increase in female office workers will lead to more demand for night spots to unwind after office hours. The Suntory-controlled company is expanding its Di Punto chain of wine bars to at least 26 outlets by the end of next year — up from 16 now — to tap that demand.

“Men go to ‘izakaya’ or Japanese-style bars after work, but those places are so full of men that many women feel a little uncomfortable,” Pronto spokeswoman Chikako Hirose said. “There’s an increasing need for working women to have a girls-only night out for a drink to strengthen their solidarity.”

The chain’s customers spend ¥3,200 on an average night, slightly higher than customers of traditional bars, and 80 percent are women, Hirose said. That figure should climb as more women are promoted and see increases in earnings.

Japanese women not only prefer a different atmosphere when drinking, they also have different tastes, according to Melbourne-based Treasury Wine.

The maker of Penfolds Grange will dedicate more of its lower-alcohol Lindemans Early Harvest and Rawsons Retreat wines to Japan and has moved a Japanese-speaking general manager to keep closer watch on changing consumer trends in the country.

“Asian female consumers, they don’t want the hard liquor,” Chief Executive Officer Mike Clarke said last month. “If we can entice them to switch to wine versus a spirit, that’s an opportunity.”