The sweet meeting with Jim that made me long to bake shortbread
When I was a child, adults often asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I used to say I wanted to be a baker.
I liked the smell of bread, although I had no idea how to make it. I still don’t, as I chose journalism as a career, rather than baking.
Nevertheless it was a bit of a thrill last week to interview a famous baker and talk to him about Japan. The man’s name is Jim Walker from Scotland and his specialism is shortbread – a kind of cake.
When his grandfather Joseph Walker first opened a bakery in 1898, Japan was far from his mind.
Yet today, Joseph’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Jim, the managing director, see Japan as one of their most important overseas markets. They therefore take a keen personal interest in how the brand is marketed there.
For that reason he wanted to talk to me about the draft of an article I’d written for SoftBank, which mentioned his company.
In the draft I wrote that: “Walkers is trying to convince Japanese customers that it makes the world’s finest shortbread.”
During our conversation, Mr Walker told me that this was incorrect. “We don’t claim to make the world’s finest shortbread. We do! It is the world’s finest shortbread and we have scientific evidence to prove it.”
Well, I am not a scientist but I have tried the biscuits – including some special ones sent to me by Jim after our interview – and I cannot offer anything to disprove his claim. By the way, if you feel I have compromised my journalistic integrity by plugging the biscuits, I apologise.
There was a valid to reason speak. Walkers is an example of a British business which has cracked the Japanese market.
Jim said: “It took us a long time to develop a brand presence there. We had 15 years of relatively low scales, concentrated on the top end of the market, such as the leading department stores. But now our shortbread is available in convenience stores and groceries, so we’re proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Mr Walker says it seems that some Japanese people who visited Scotland and the UK on holiday enjoyed the shortbread during their trips, and wanted to share it with their friends when they returned home. He thinks this has helped to create demand.
“In terms of food, once Japanese people have developed a taste for something special, they really want to buy it, even though imported products are more expensive,” he says.
By the way, I have now got rather more shortbread in my office than is needed by the small team at Japan Story. If you’d like to share it with me, please let me know and let’s try to arrange to meet in London or Tokyo soon. I believe it will be delicious with either coffee or green tea.