MEIJI MILK PRODUCTS COMPANY, LIMITED History
Telephone: (03) 281-6118
Incorporated: 1917 as Boso Condensed Milk
Sales: ¥374.5 billion (US$3 billion)
Stock Index: Tokyo Osaka Nagoya
Meiji Milk Products Company, Limited, the company that introduced condensed milk to Japanese consumers in 1917, is Japan's second-largest producer of fresh and powdered milk. However, the company has gradually changed its marketing thrust over the past several decades and is looking beyond basic dairy products for its future development. Meiji's sales of infant formula and yogurt products now rank highest in the nation, and the company is developing additional products and markets aggressively, to position itself as a leading general food company.
Milk was not a popular beverage in pre-1917 Japan, but a growing awareness of its nutritional value and an appreciation of the storage convenience of unopened cans helped make the launch of condensed milk in Japan feasible.
With the participation of the Meiji Sugar Manufacturing Company, Boso Condensed Milk was founded in the closing months of World War I. Japan had lately risen to the status of a world power, and the resulting increase in contact with Western nations had begun to weaken the resistance of the Japanese public toward departures from traditional dietary customs and habits.
But within months of the launch, a postwar recession began to slow the economy. It took several years for condensed milk to gain general acceptance. Recovery was gradual until the late 1920s, when a period of rapid industrialization took hold. As workers from rural areas flocked to the new factory sites, the mood was again favorable for acceptance of new products and changes in dietary habits.
From the invasion of Manchuria in the early 1930s until the end of World War II, Japan was preoccupied with the production and use of munitions. But despite wartime difficulties in transporting goods, Boso continued to make gains.
When it merged with the Tokyo Confectionery Company in 1940, Boso changed its name to Meiji Milk Products Company, Limited. The company then began to diversify, adding a line of chocolate, candy, gum, snack foods, and other confections, and Meiji grew quickly.
In 1949, Meiji was able to strengthen its position through a merger with Japan Dairy Products and three other companies. The following year, Meiji took over the Imagame factory from the Hokkaido Dairy Farm Association, and also bought the Tokyo Dairy Industry and the Shoman Milk Company. A merger in 1951 brought Asahi Milk Products into the Meiji group.
Although most of the companies Meiji had acquired through these mergers were primarily milk producers, the need for continuing diversification had become a significant factor in planning for the future. The use of condensed milk as a dietary supplement for infants set the stage for development of a line of infant formula and baby food, and the postwar baby boom created a ready market.
In the 1950s, as ice cream became popular, Meiji decided to specialize in a high-grade product and eventually introduced "Lady Borden"--to this day an upscale market leader. Meiji's agreement with the Borden Company, an American food company, was the first of a number of business relationships Meiji has maintained profitably with foreign companies.
The next logical step was to introduce frozen foods, both for individual consumers in the grocery market and in institutional quantities for restaurants, hospitals, and other large organizations. Foods such as pizza, pilaf, frozen rice, and fried entrees have been consistently strong sellers, along with puddings and other desserts, margarine, and creams.
New products are developed in-house, for the most part. Meiji's research-and-development department has explored fermentation processes and worked to develop more efficient technologies for 70 years. One of Meiji's most successful products is Meiji Infant Soft Curd FK-P, an infant formula popular in Japan and many other countries. Another, Meiji Bulgaria Yogurt LB51, is the leading yogurt in Japan.
The growing interest in health foods in the past several decades has not only spurred yogurt sales but also led to the development of other products, such as popular bottled yogurt drinks. Meiji has established a subsidiary, Health Way, Inc., to develop and market new health-related foods.
The market for dairy foods has fluctuated from time to time, with factors such as the rise and fall of the birth rate, but in general the market is a growing one; the market for cheese in particular appears to be rising steadily. Through an agreement with Borden, Meiji imports natural cheese and manufactures and markets processed cheese in Japan.
Branching out into nonfood products and services has also been profitable for Meiji. After manufacturing animal feeds for a number of years, the company has started raising livestock, and it also manufactures veterinary medicines.
One of Meiji's research-and-development sites, the Meiji Institute of Health Science, has been instrumental in adding a line of pharmaceutical products to the company's wares. Among their products are antibiotics, enzymes, and agricultural chemicals. Other products, such as an anticancer drug using lactic acid bacilli, are under development. A Meiji vaccine has proven effective when tested against B-type hepatitis.
Meiji has also capitalized on the time-saving services that have become important to Japanese consumers. Nice Day, Inc., a Meiji subsidiary, operates a shop-at-home service for supplies related to child-rearing. Another specializes in home delivery of foods, and still another provides communication services for users of personal computers. Real estate is another interest the company has developed during the 1980s.
But the main focus of Meiji's efforts continues to be its original interest: the food market. In aspiring to become a major general food manufacturer, the company works with several others overseas. For example, Meiji has an agreement with the England and Wales Milk Marketing Board, a major British dairy organization, to work together to develop new yogurt-related products and technology. Working with the American company Abbott Laboratories provides Meiji with the technology to produce new nutritional products.
In addition to marketing its products to domestic and overseas food outlets. Meiji has also established its own chain of franchised food stores. Meiji's innovation, diversification, and strong marketing are expected to move the company in the direction it has chosen, and it is fast becoming a major, comprehensive food supplier.
Principal Subsidiaries: Meiji Feedstuff Company, Limited; Nippon Canned Foods Company, Limited; Meiji Oils and Fats Company, Limited; Tokyo Gyunyo Unyu Company, Limited; Tokyo Meinyu Hanhai Company, Limited; Tohoku Meihan Company, Limited; Tomei Foods Company, Limited; Chubu Meihan Company, Limited; Kansai Meihan Company, Limited; Kyushu Meinyu Hanbai Company, Limited; Hokkaido Meihan Company, Limited; Chugoku Meihan Company, Limited; Asahi Broiler Company, Limited; Meiji Kenko Ham Company, Limited; Kanto Seiraku Company, Limited; Meiji-Borden, Incorporated; Wako Livestock Company, Limited; Okinawa Meiji Nyugyo Company, Limited; Tokyo Vehicles Co., Ltd.; Meiji Custom Beef Co., Ltd.; Meiji Frozen Desserts Co., Ltd.; Meiji Travel Co., Ltd.; Meiji Techno-Service Inc.; Health Way Co., Ltd.; Nice Day, Inc.; Masternet Inc.; Camp Co., Ltd.; Meiji Sante Ole Co., Ltd.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 2. St. James Press, 1990.