Back to Main
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.
He was a teenager who dreamed to work overseas and belonged to the English Speaking Society. When he was 20 years old, he traveled alone across the U.S. by Greyhound bus and visited his American pen pals. He also visited universities in North America and thought that he would return to the U.S. as a graduate student.
Some years later, he decided to attend the University of Wisconsin where fewer numbers of Japanese students were studying, so that he could be exposed to an English speaking environment.
At that time, Kikkoman Foods had already operated in Walworth, and one of his professors knew about Mr. Yuzaburo Mogi, then Director of Kikkoman’s Overseas Department and currently Honorable Chairman of Kikkoman. The professor recommended him to join Kikkoman, but candidate Shimizu applied to several other companies and was accepted. When he thought about his career of selling a typical Japanese seasoning like soy sauce to the U.S., it seemed a most attractive and challenging job. He finally decided to join Kikkoman in 1980.

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 1980s.
On the other hand, California roll became popular, and a sushi boom grew across the U.S. This was a good trend for Kikkoman because demand for soy sauce increased. Teriyaki also became popular, so the company could sell more teriyaki sauce. Nowadays, Kikkoman’s products are sold at most grocery stores, and soy sauce is called “Kikkoman.”

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.
The factory was opened in 1973 and has grown steadily. It celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. However, it had gone through unprecedented challenges.
Only two months after his arrival at Walworth, Fannie Mae was placed under the control of Federal Government. In October, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Due to the economic downturn precipitated by the bankruptcy, the distribution industry took actions to reduce inventories. Consequently, Kikkoman’s production volume decreased.
As the CEO of the company, Shimizu had to oversee its profit and loss. Under his direction, the company modified shifts and increased production efficiency without hiring new workers. It took three years to restore it to its former state.
Then drought hit the Midwest, and soybean prices soared for the second consecutive year. Shimizu said, “We had really a hard time.”
This year, more farmers grew soybeans, and record-high yields were predicted with good weather. As a result, soybean prices went down for the first time since 2012.

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.”
The company has about 160 employees, and only eight Japanese nationals are working there. Shimizu said, “If you want to think of continuous profitable operation in the U.S., you have to train local employees. Recently, an employee who had worked here for 40 years, retired. We have many people who worked for a long time here.”

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.
Chicago Shimpo was allowed to see a part of the factory by covering head to toe. Before entering the factory, a washing machine cleaned the bottoms of shoes, and another washing machine washed hands. In the factory, there was no dust or trash. Everything was clean.

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.
Many security cameras monitor the factory to record anyone who tries to bring something in which might interfere with the production. Any chemicals such as detergents are kept in a locked cage.

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.