Borders Are Now Open, Go Buy Kit Kat in Japan!
After more than two years of the border closure, Japan finally lifted border restrictions for mass tourism in October 2022. There are a lot to do in the East Asian island country—from wearing traditional Kimoto to appreciating the great nature of the archipelago to indulging in authentic Japanese cuisine with highly fresh ingredients. One more thing is tasting Japanese Kit Kat chocolate bars—Kit Kat is available in a wide variety of flavors in Japan. So, let’s find out: “How many Kit Kat flavors exist in Japan?”
The First Flavor Variant Was Kit Kat Orange in the UK
A York-based confectionery company, Rowntree’s, later forming Rowntree Mackintosh, created this chocolate bar in 1935. In 1988, Nestlé acquired the company and started producing Kit Kat globally.
The UK-born chocolate bar landed in Japan in 1973 after agreement between Rowntree Mackintosh and Japanese confectioner Fujiya. After the acquisition by Nestlé in 1988, Nestlé and Fujiya established Nestlé Mackintosh in Japan, which later merged with Nestlé Japan. In 1989, the company started producing Kit Kat at a local factory for the Japanese market. Kit Kat soon gained popularity among Japanese consumers.
In 1996, the first flavor variant Kit Kat Orange was marketed in the UK. Following the success of Kit Kat Orange, Nestlé launched several other flavors such as mint and caramel in the UK. Japan also followed this trend; Kit Kat Strawberry appeared in the Japanese market in 2000 as the first flavor variant.
Ever since 2000, Nestlé Japan has sold Kit Kat in more than 450 flavors, according to Nestlé Japan. That’s 100% credible, 450 flavors, because InsightsArtist sent a direct message to Nestlé Japan and they kindly replied. Some are as unique as wasabi and sake flavors. But why does Japan have so many Kit Kat flavors? Although many explanations could be given, some answers might lie in its culture and in consumers’ behaviors.
Kit Kat Variants Are Spot on for Japanese Omiyage Culture
Kit Kat variants did exceptionally well in Japan backed by the country’s omiyage (お土産) culture. Omiyage literally translates souvenir; however, you don’t buy it for yourself but you give it to others. In Japan, it is common for people who went on a trip to bring back a local specialty of the place to family, friends, classmates, or colleagues. People often buy food items that are only available regionally—Kit Kat regional limited edition makes the perfect omiyage!
Omiyage Kit Kat uses specialty food products associated with particular places. For instance, Kyoto is famous for Uji matcha—Kyoto limited edition Kit Kat is Uji matcha flavored. And of course, it is only available in Kyoto or in the surrounding region.
Japanese Consumers Like Limited Editions
In addition to regional limited editions, there are a wide range of seasonal limited editions. These seasonal editions typically use ingredients in season during certain time of the year.
For instance, there is cherry blossom associated Kit Kat in spring. Then comes summer: mango, peach, ice cream, and so on. Chestnut flavored Kit Kat is a popular autumn limited edition. In winter, amazake flavor Kit Kat may appear in the market, which is non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice often drunk during winter in Japan.
Some of the popular seasonal Kit Kats make a comeback, whilst new flavors debut almost every year. Consumers look forward to tasting new products, enjoying seasonal tastes.
Furthermore, consumers’ interest in new and unique products can be another factor for why so many Kit Kat flavors exist in Japan. According to Santander’s marketing report on Japanese consumer profile, there is a strong desire for new products in Japan. Indeed, convenience stores and supermarkets always display new products at the entrance—mostly snacks and confectionery—to catch customers’ attention.
Try These Unique Flavors in Japan
Let’s talk about flavors. Although there have been more than 450 kinds of flavors, I will just pick up a few—one you can’t go wrong, one that sounds strange, and one I’d personally like to try. Since they are all limited editions, they might not be available today. But try your luck, if you are visiting Japan!
Strawberry Cheese Cake | Yokohama Limited Edition
What can go wrong with the combination of cheesecake and strawberry? Nestlé Japan sells this flavor as a regional limited edition of Yokohama.
By the way if you are in Australia, you can also purchase Special Edition Strawberry Cheesecake Kit Kat at Kit Kat Chocolatory online boutique. The two variants are not exactly the same; it will be fun to taste and compare them.
Hot Japanese Chili Ichimi | Shinsyu Limited Edition
Ichimi is Japanese cayenne pepper powder; people usually add a bit of this hot powder to noodles or skewered chicken. Nestlé Japan collaborated with a famous ichimi manufacturer Yawata Isogoro to launch ichimi flavored Kit Kat in 2009. Yawata Isogoro is a shinise—literally means “old shop”—that has been in business since 1736 in Nagano Prefecture. The collaboration between the UK-born chocolate bar and Japanese pepper shinise certainly caught consumers’ attention.
Apart from ichimi Kit Kat, there have been several other weirdos. Yuzu (Japanese citrus) pepper, soy sauce, miso, and wasabi flavors are some of them. Other interesting flavors are sake flavors such as yuzu sake, plum sake, yogurt sake and many others. They all contain small amount of alcohol.
Momiji Manju | Hiroshima Limited Edition
Momiji Manju is a traditional Japanese confection shaped in Momiji or Japanese maple leaves. It is a local specialty of Hiroshima Prefecture. Typically, it has an outside made with buckwheat and rice, filled with red bean paste.
Momiji Manju Kit Kat is a collaboration work between Nestlé Japan and Takatsudo which is a shinise confectionery store founded in 1906. Takatsudo is said to be the first confectionery store to sell Momiji Manju.
Some of the limited editions are launched as collaborations with Nestlé Japan and famous or established food/beverage brands. And these collaboration intrigues consumers’ curiosity—”How does this chocolate bar replicate the flavor of the well-known shinise product?”
Where to Buy These Kit Kat?
On the side note, if you are interested in buying these Kit Kat variants in Japan, here is where to find them.
Regional limited editions are available in a certain region; in most cases, main stations and airport in the area and convenience stores in the area are a good place to find them. If you are a road traveler, highway service areas are the perfect place to stop by to buy local specialties including Kit Kat special editions.
Seasonal limited editions are available at most supermarkets and convenience stores countrywide.
Additionally, there is a high chance for tourists to encounter a wide range of Kit Kats at discount stores such as Don Quijote or at international airports such as Haneda, Narita, or Kansai Airports.
Summing up: How Many Kit Kat Flavors Exist in Japan?
There have been more than 450 flavors of Kit Kat in Japan since 2000. The first Kit Kat flavor variant in the UK was orange, which was launched in 1996. Following the success of the flavored Kit Kat, Nestlé Japan launched its first flavor variant: strawberry.
Ever since the strawberry flavor, new and unique flavors have been sent out to the Japanese market. Some are regional limited editions, while others are seasonal limited editions. There are an extensive variety in flavors, from fruits such as mango, melon, and peach, to Japanese sake and traditional sweets.