Morinaga & Co., Mr Watanabe・Mr Hirano × TRINUS CEO Satō Interview
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The first large corporation which TRINUS worked with is Morinaga & Co. Working together with Morinaga for just over two years, they have managed to produce 4 all-new products together! Using a new edible material which takes a long time to dissolve, they have developed an all-new mint chip [TiMES] which gives you over 40 minutes of exhilarating freshness! Perfectly suited for sucking on during meetings and movies, the [Long Lasting Lozenges] also gives you over 40 minutes of throat relief. Utilising ‘baked technology’ [Cheezest] is a cheesy snack which gives you double the texture. Concentrating the hearty goodness of soups around the world into a small convenient snack [WORLD SOUP SNACK] is a fulfilling treat. The only things that existed are Morinaga’s technologies and TRINUS’ design resources alone. We sat Mr Watanabe who took initial charge of this collaborative project and Mr Hirano who is the current man in charge to hear about their story of how they created these products from nothing.

Building trusting relationships from light footwork

Please tell me about how you met with TRINUS and the steps you took to start your collaborative project.

WatanabeWe met through the Morinaga Accelerator Programme. Large corporations such as ours and venture companies each have their strengths and weaknesses. The Morinaga Accelerator Programme aims to take the best of both to see if we can create something new together. We received 150 business plans, and these plans were whittled down to 6 companies, and one of those was TRINUS. From the moment when we first heard TRINUS’ business model, we thought they had a really interesting product development cycle.

SatōAt the time, TRINUS had no experience working with large corporations however, we thought that working with Morinaga would lead to a dynamic working relationship and so we decided to go for it. We thought that we would be able to work together on product development and large initiatives.

HiranoI was worried that Morinaga & Co. wasn’t taking in any ideas from outside of the company during product development.

WatanabeThe project started in October 2017 and we were tasked with presenting our achievements at a presentation in half a year. We had to explain how we were going to work together to various people with authority including the marketing director, head of R&D, managers and other heads of departments. Fortunately, we were successful in our pitch and we decided to engage in product development using the TRINUS platform. We had Satō come into our internal meetings to help explain the platform and persuade the board of managers. It was really hard work but we were able to come up with a plan; we were to develop two products which use Morinaga’s patented technologies by December, and to start trial sales by January. Product development at this speed was unimaginable at our company.

SatōFirst of all, we had to determine which of Morinaga’s technologies we wanted to use. We wanted to hear about them directly from the people on site at Morinaga, so we asked the R&D department to explain what they had to offer… However, there were many people involved in the project so it was difficult to establish our roots. From our point of view, we thought it would be difficult to progress the project if there weren’t any people who thought in a similar way to us, so we were grateful to have Mr Watanabe on board as a companion. His footwork is light and the way he can bring people together is unparalleled (laughs).

WatanabeNah, Satō’s footwork is really light too. We are grateful that he came to the research facilities with us. Thanks to him carrying the team, he opened up the minds of those at our company, helping us to find all sorts of new things. Up until then, there was no mechanism for how Morinaga would engage in product development with other companies. If any uncertainties arose, he would come to communicate with us, reassuring us. We think that Satō’s dedicated attitude was a vital key to the success of this project.


Communicate every day. Trial and error product development

Was there anything vital to the progression of the project?

SatōWe took two of Morinaga’s patented technologies ‘Baked Technology’ and ‘Low Solubility Amorphous Material (LSA)’ and posted them on our platform at the beginning of 2018 for people to come up with product development concepts and designs. The deadline for submissions was Valentine’s Day on 14th February. During this period of one and a half months, we received about 150 concepts for ‘Baked Technology’ and close to 200 for ‘LSA’.

WatanabeWe started the Baked Technology Product Development Project by bringing in the brand executive and manager for the existing [BAKE] confectionery product.

This project would evolve to create the cheesy savoury snack [Cheezest].

SatōWe received many applications but, I was surprised at the number of concepts which passed initial screening and were made into prototypes. In addition to marketing and reach feasibility studies, it was necessary to make it and taste-test the products to see if it was any good. We tested a lot of ideas regardless of how minor they seemed (laughs), the foie gras confectionery I tried was pretty out there (laugh).

WatanabeThe R&D team worked really hard on this project. We held tasting sessions at TRINUS’ office and got feedback from everyone. Taking on ideas that get, we tested a variety of sizes and cheesy flavours via trial and error. We spent a lot of time determining the perfect ratio between the crispness of the outside and the runniness of the inside. During this process, we came up with the term “kari-toro ratio (crisp-runny ratio)” (laughs).

The packaging for this product is quite unusual, how did you come up with it?

WatanabeWe left the packaging design to TRINUS and came to this design but refining the final design together. The packaging was a tub shape that Morinaga had yet to do before, so the people at our company had their doubts as to whether it would perform well in crowdfunding. Despite this, the project team and I wanted to see how this [Cheezest] concept would do on the platform.

SatōWe wanted the packaging for [Cheezest] to look like a cheese wheel as we thought this would make it easy to understand that it’s a cheesy savoury snack. The [WORLD SOUP SNACK] which we developed after this has packaging along the same lines, this time making it look like cartons of soup. We thought that crowdfunding would be a great way to see if these new types of packaging would be liked by customers or not.


The best part of sales trials is getting to know your customers

What was the outcome of this collaborative project?

SatōTiMES exceeded it’s crowdfunding goal by an astounding 209%, with 325 supporters and pre-orders.

HiranoWe had a meeting at our company to talk about what constitutes as crowdfunding success. By putting our product page onto the TRINUS platform we realised that you can put down a lot more details about our products than we could have done at a retail store. From this we also found that ‘product understanding = product support’ and we were pleased to understand the importance of support as a KPI.

SatōThe great thing about sales trials is that you get its easy to see achievement and progress in front of your eyes. I was happy to see that existing technology could be used to come up with a new product concept that people would be excited about. I think of it as my mission for everyone in the country to get their hands on such products.

WatanabeThe interesting thing about sales trials is that it allows you to see what sorts of customers will buy your product. Being able to hear the opinions of those who are interested, and are willing to support your idea until commercialisation is an incredible asset. These opinions aren’t the sort you can find from ordinary market research.

SatōThe opinions you get from general market research questionnaires are not necessarily from the people who are interested in buying your product. As a result, you sometimes end up getting completely different answers to what you want. With crowdfunding trial sales, you get real responses from people who are interested in buying your product and so you get much more serious and useful responses. You can also directly find out what the best way to appeal you the target audience is, by looking at how well the product is performing in crowdfunding. Mr Watanabe and I were analysing things such as this whilst during the project

WatanabeAt the time, I remember talking to Satō and absurd amount every single day (laughs). Having started a collaborative project via the accelerator programme, we eventually reached our goal of successfully developing a product. In order to meet this goal, communication between our two companies was key. The products that we have developed are continuing to gain traction and are in the middle of establishing sales channels outside of crowdfunding.


The importance of establishing the key to success

What did you find was important to establish to progress the project? Please tell me all about the what Morinaga & Co. thought at the time too!

WatanabeThe people at our company of course wanted the products which we developed to be commercialised and sold around the nation, but we also found lots of enjoyment in looking at a variety of unique product concepts. We also got our people involved in voting for their favourite product concepts on the TRINUS platform.

SatōEven though there are over 1,000 employees at your company, you sent your emails to them all at once right?

WatanabeYep. Having looked at the ideas which were submitted, there were lots where we thought “We wouldn’t have come up with that ourselves.”. The company president loved TRINUS’ work and said: “Let’s keep them on as a secondary design house” (laughs). The things that are developed by us alone end up being ‘Morinaga-ish’ whether that’s for better or worse.

SatōI reckon being able to break out of that ‘Morinaga-ish’ mould is evidence of the success of the project. Oh yea! The thing that I liked most about this project was that we started by talking about money. If you don’t talk about money from the start, the project will end in dispute. Nobody likes to talk about money, but I reckon it is an important part of building a trusting business relationship.

WatanabeI certainly agree. I think it’s because we talked about it so seriously at the start, that we were able to work freely straight afterwards.

SatōWe had a trusting relationship, didn’t we. Though there were lots of financial transactions during the project, I’m glad that we were able to establish a financial base at the start. This way, it prevents arguments later down the line, and because it’s something that people don’t like talking about, I think it’s very important to make it clear from the get-go.

HiranoI agree! The products that we ended up with at the end turned out great, I think they are worth more than what we are selling them for


I want TRINUS to be an igniter of ideas

Please tell me about what you expect from TRINUS

HiranoWe had the technology for LSA at our company for five or six years, but we didn’t have a product that made use of it. It was very worth-while going through the product development process with TRINUS leading the way. In addition to hearing their opinions, we felt that they bridged the gap with us well, helping the project progress smoothly.

SatōIn what ways do you think TRINUS was able to provide you with value?

HiranoWe would like to reduce the hurdle for product development at our company. Even when we’ve carried out sales trials in the past, we needed to produce a certain lot. It’s quite difficult to progress projects by ourselves.

WatanabeAccelerator programmes have the image of completing a project over a set period however, our relationship with TRINUS transcends this, having built a proper business relationship. Brand-new products which aren’t just a spin on an existing product only come out about once a year here. Even then, TRINUS has managed to come up with 4 new products over a short period. I reckon that we were able to pull off great PR thanks to their flexible working style.

SatōWhat have you done with the ideas you’ve gathered?

WatanabeThe [Bake Technology] in particular received a wide range of product concepts. Even if we were to come up with some of these ideas internally, we’d come up with an excuse to not progress it, and call it a day there. However, I liked that this project helped give us the momentum to say ‘let’s just do it!’ resulting in us turning out some great products.

SatōI think it’d be great to carry out collaborative projects in other forms in the future. For example, taking skills from your company to work with another company, or even the reverse of that. I think it would be great to pursue all sorts of other possibilities together.

WatanabeI think it was great to develop products using ideas that we wouldn’t have come up with alone. It would be cool to challenge business development in a similar way.

HiranoWe expect to engage in a wide variety of collaborative projects. I want to develop sales channels too! I want TRINUS to continue being an igniter of ideas.

SatōI look forward to working with you in the future!