All Purpose Seasoning: from Sushi to Ice Cream
Interview: Kazuo Shimizu of Kikkoman Foods
Kikkoman means soy sauce, a must-have item for sushi and Japanese cuisine. It has also become a familiar seasoning in the American kitchen. Recently Chicago Shimpo interviewed Mr. Kazuo Shimizu, President and CEO of the Kikkoman Foods, Inc. in Walworth, Wisconsin. Shimizu is also President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago (JCCC). He has lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years and has become quite acquainted with both American and Japanese business environments.
Shimizu was born in 1954 in Osaka City. After graduating
from Kwansei Gakuin University, he attended the University of Wisconsin
at Madison to obtain an MBA in 1978.
Shimizu was transferred to JFC’s New York branch in 1985 and worked for sales promotion and purchasing. Kikkoman has two factories in the U.S. and sells its products through Kikkoman Sales U.S.A. In addition, Kikkoman has a fully owned subsidiary, JFC International, Inc., which distributes Kikkoman products and other Japanese food items across the U.S. Shimizu said that having three functions, production, sales, and distribution, was the strength of Kikkoman.
Kikkoman first embarked on its marketing activities in the U.S. in 1957. The company foresaw that Japanese population would decrease over the long term. Actually, shipping volume of soy sauce peaked in the middle of the 1970s, and current volume has decreased by two thirds. Kikkoman predicted this fact more than a half century ago.
Kikkoman’s basic stance was selling soy sauce to major food markets in the U.S., not to minor oriental market. Kikkoman started marketing activities with a catch phrase of “Delicious on Meats” and “All Purpose Seasoning” later. The company gradually gained customers with its consistent efforts and expanded its branch offices to Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta.
Before Kikkoman entered the U.S. market, soy sauce had
been sold in the market; however, it was made by chemical reactions. Kikkoman’s
authentically-brewed soy sauce was different from others due to the taste,
aroma, and color, so the soy sauce users gradually recognized the differences,
and Kikkoman gained top share in the U.S. market by the middle of the
Shimizu stayed in New York for eight years, and then
returned to Japan. In July, 2008, he was appointed as President and CEO
of Kikkoman Foods in Walworth. He and his host family of 30 years ago
enjoyed a reunion, but his challenges soon started.
Shimizu said, “Kikkoman Foods has overcome all hardships,
but I cannot do everything by myself. I have to assign tough jobs to managers
in human resource and purchasing departments. They worked very hard.”
As President of JCCC, Shimizu said that he has had no problem with serving in it. “JCCC is a historic organization, and its head office is well-organized. One of the most important tasks is operating a Japanese school for the children of business people from Japan. That’s our big responsibility,” he said.
Kikkoman Foods hasn’t accepted factory sightseers in
recent years because of tightened food-security regulations by FDA. The
company built an unbroken fence around the site, and the main gate is
always closed to check people who wish to enter the factory site.
The main ingredients of soy sauce are soybeans and wheat.
Koji, a kind of malt, is added, and then salt water is poured. During
a six-month period, those prepared ingredients are brewed in a huge tank
and become soy sauce.
The brewed soy sauce is packed into bottles or containers and distributed to stores and restaurants. Fresh soy sauce is burgundy and clear. Soy sauce doesn’t spoil, but freshness would be lost once you open the bottle, so keeping it refrigerated is recommended to enjoy good aroma, taste, and beautiful color.
Kikkoman soy sauce is used in many processed foods, dressings, barbeque sauces, and more. When salt is added to food, soy sauce works better than just adding salt because soy sauce has less sodium and makes a good salty taste. Soy sauce also provides umami, or rich taste to food.
At the end of the interview, Shimizu gave an easy dessert recipe. If you like caramel-flavor ice cream, put a drop of soy sauce on vanilla ice cream and mix it well. Amazingly, it becomes good caramel flavor. Shimizu said that soy sauce had many kinds of flavor essence; thus, it helped make food taste better
Kazuo Shimizu, President and CEO of the Kikkoman Foods, Inc.