Maui-made products promoted in Tokyo, a market that loves Maui

Nine Maui companies had their products featured at the prestigious Tokyo International Gift Show in Japan from Sept. 2 to 5, including: Chic Naturals, Hali’imaile Pineapple Co., Island Style Bedding, Kula Herbs, Maui Nui Wear, Maui Preserved,

Maui Soap Co., Maui Wine and Upcountry Maui Jam & Jelly Co. They joined other companies from across the state in the Hawaii Pavilion.

The effort was primarily funded by the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, with support from the County of Maui and the Maui Food Technology Center, and Neal Arakaki of the Jaxie Corp., who helped plan and coordinate the event. The Maui Chamber of Commerce took part as well.

The Tokyo International Gift Show is the largest international trade show in Japan. It is held twice a year in spring and autumn at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center (aka Tokyo Big Sight) and features exhibits of personal gifts, consumer goods and decorative accessories. The September event marked the 80th show. Exhibits were housed in 10 massive halls and the Atrium. The show is for buyers, wholesalers and distributors, with 2,500 participating companies and an anticipated attendance of 200,000.

This year, several new Maui companies were offered an opportunity to be included due to their participation in last year’s Made In Maui County Festival, co-presented by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the Maui Chamber of Commerce. These companies, along with other Maui and Hawaii companies, were afforded the opportunity to meet with Japanese buyers and export products to Japan.

Some of the participating Hawaii companies have been attending the show for several years and have distributors in Japan who represented their products at the show. Others without a local distributor greatly benefitted from the interpreters hired by the show organizers. This was essential as the majority of the buyers did not speak much English and both sides wanted to ensure their communication and representations to the other were correct.

Buyers’ shows like this (with orders taken versus a consumer show with retail sales) are a great opportunity for Hawaii companies because they only have to ship over their display and product samples, not tons of product they hope to sell and have to ship back at a high cost if they incorrectly estimate sales.

However, doing business with Japan is a long-term commitment and show organizers made that very clear. They let companies considering the show for the first time know that it can take several years of show attendance before buyers view them as legitimate and place orders. Thankfully, that state understands this and has been supporting this show for years.

The state also came through with a strong presence at the show. Milton Kwok of DBEDT was present throughout; DBEDT Director Louis Salaveria, along with Dennis Ling of DBEDT and state Reps. Justin Woodson and Kyle Yamashita from Maui and Reps. Jo Jordon, Mark Hashem and Ken Ito from Oahu, came for two days; and three representatives from the Hawaii Tourism Authority also visited. This allows for a comprehensive view and analysis of the show to consider the return on investment.

From reports received, it was a successful event for Maui companies and showed how strong the Maui brand is in Japan. This market loves Maui, desires quality, and seeks authentic Maui-made products. While it will be some time before the full economic benefits are known, we predict big results as orders were being written and impressive leads were received. Stay tuned.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.