MBA students represented NZ natural petcare firm Washbar in Japan, shown here with a Japanese person on the street and their dog. August 2018.

A natural pet-care range and a plant-based weight management supplement developed in Aotearoa New Zealand are among Kiwi firms that have partnered with MBA students from the University of Auckland to make it into the Japanese market. This comes after recognising two social phenomena in Japan – increasing populations of weight-conscious young men, and 12 million pet dogs.

As the third largest market for weight loss products, Japan was an obvious target following Calocurb’s launch in New Zealand in April. A weight-loss management supplement developed by Plant & Food, it curbs appetite in users through its active ingredient, extracted from a special hops varietal grown in Motueka, near Nelson.

The team of students have worked with Lifestream, which sells Calocurb, to develop a business plan for Japan. Completing consumer research and meeting with potential partners, the team travelled to Tokyo this week.

“The target consumer is coming up younger and weighting towards men, and we’ve discovered that people in Japan are far more upfront about weight loss – it’s been fascinating. We’re delighted,” said Lifestream chief executive, Sarah Kennedy.

Amidst this, another team of MBA students have asked Japanese dog-owners about their pet-grooming needs. With around 12 million dogs in Japan, Wellington-based Washbar aims for more owners to know about its all-natural, GMO-free pet-care range.

With its products widely available through pet shops and vets in New Zealand, Washbar exports to nine countries, including Japan. Co-owner Lou Knight hopes the company’s partnership with the students will deliver a stronger understanding of consumer needs in the Japanese market.

“We see Japan as a key market because of its number of dogs and the way people look after their dogs – there’s a trend we’re seeing there and in other countries towards the ‘humanisation’ of pets – treating them more like ourselves than pets. We hope to gain an understanding of which products will sit best there – we could develop products specifically for a worthwhile market like Japan if we knew it would be a good fit.”

Associate Professor Daniel Vidal and Senior Lecturer Dr Antje Fiedler accompanied the 42 students, representing 11 businesses as they went to Tokyo. The teams aimed to provide businesses with specific recommendations on how to approach internationalisation with as less risk as possible.

“Being able to put ourselves in the shoes of the entrepreneur in such a rich and diverse country has been an experience that we will never forget. Nothing beats the challenge of being on the ground, interacting with consumers and possible partners face-to-face, and knowing that our efforts can create real opportunities to grow the business of the clients we are representing,” said MBA student, Candice Robertson.

Other businesses represented on the trip included LilyBee Wrap, Lanaco, ABI Piers, and Chia.