Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Notting Hill Cakes ... in Tokyo

Last week I visited Notting Hill Cakes near Hiroo and met the president, Mark Petersen. Notting Hill also has a shop in Nishi Azabu but the Hiroo shop has a cafe. The shop is small but scrupulously clean. The cupcakes and muffins are displayed behind a glass counter. All along the back wall of the shop is a large black and white photograph of Victorian era Notting Hill.

We talked about how foreign products must be specificially targeted to the Japanese market. As you may expect, the customer base at Hiroo is primarily female. Only Japanese housewives have free time to spend with their friends. Mark said that Japanese females are much more selective than Brit customers (he previously owned a shop in Knightsbridge), and ask many questions about freshness and the quality of ingredients and before making a choice.

The company also does events at upmarket department stores especially around Valentine's Day and White Day (one month after Valentine's). Around Valentine's, Mark noticed, female customers will spend days visiting various shops and comparing products before returning and making a purchase of around 2,000 Yen. They also have specific gift-wrapping requirements. Japanese men, however, will walk in and pick up the first ready-wrapped box they see and pay on average 800 Yen. Japanese men also do not frequent the cafe. The obvious reason is that Japanese working men do not leave work until late evening and then they do so in the company of their colleagues to visit a bar and drink beer. They drink coffee in the winter and beer in the summer and cannot be swayed by the herbal teas at Notting Hill.

I am planning a little assignment with my Culture and Society students. We are going to try to market a selection of Brit food products for the Japanese market. And vice versa.

As I left, Mark kindly gave me some cupcakes. Look at the design of the box and at how the lid opens without spoiling the cakes. And see the work that has gone in to presenting each cake: one a delicate taste with pastel decoration, the other a rich chocolate. 'Cup'cakes they may be but but I couldn't eat a whole cake in one go. I think Japanese women may buy cakes to share.

Notting Hill Cakes: www. nottinghillcakes.com


  1. Very tastefully presented (sorry!).
    Do Japanese women (or men) bake anything at home?
    We have Nigella and Delia showing us how to present traditional afternoon tea which is making a come back in the UK.
    We would probably make a batch of plain cupcakes, freeze some and decorate them as needed.

  2. Only large, modern Japanese homes have ovens. Most houses and apartments have only a hob and a grill for fish. So few people can bake cakes at home. Consequently there are a lot of bakeries and patisseries in Japan. The most famous are generally run by male Japanese chefs who have trained in Paris. Paris has the most prestigious 'brand' cachet in 'cake' terms.