Hordes of Chinese tourists descending on Japan are a welcome development for local condom maker Sagami Rubber Industries Co., whose domestic clientele is fast shrinking amid an aging population.
Demand for foreign-brand rubbers has surged in China, where the poor quality of some local prophylactics has prompted customers to look overseas for more reliable alternatives.
Chinese tourists are loading up on Sagami’s condoms, so much so that its thinnest product has sold out, Bloomberg News reported.
Sagami president Ichiro Ohato said the company is limiting its deliveries to make sure none of its distributors and retailers run out of supply before the Feb. 8 Lunar New Year festivities.
“Thanks to this inbound business, we’re suddenly facing shortages,” said Ohato, whose grandmother founded the business in 1934. “Retailers have been bombarding us with calls every day, telling us they want more and more.”
Chinese consumers are attracted to the “high quality” of Japanese condoms, especially following safety concerns about China-made ones, Credit Suisse equities analyst Masashi Mori told Bloomberg in a phone interview.
Shanghai police seized three million fake condoms made locally from inferior, foul-smelling materials, the People’s Daily reported in April.
Two years earlier, Ghanaian authorities said one million imported condoms made by a Chinese company burst during sex and contained holes, the Guardian newspaper reported.
About five million people from mainland China visited Japan last year, twice as many as 2014, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.
That has bolstered sales of Japanese-made goods from diapers and feminine-care products to rice cookers and toilet seats.
“Japan has become a shopping mecca for Chinese tourists due to the desire for ‘Made in Japan’ goods, the unique shopping experience the country provides for Chinese tourists and in addition the recent duty-free status now granted to tourists,” said Jared Conway, research manager for Japan with Euromonitor International.
Mori said he is optimistic about the long-term prospects for Japanese condom makers.
“If China really does make the transition from investments to consumer spending, people are going to want to trade up and use better products,” he said. “So there’s still lots of room for growth.”
To ramp up production, Sagami is expanding one of its two factories in Ipoh, Malaysia. It’s also planning to build a third factory there to boost output, Ohato said.
By spring, he wants to double the volume of extra-thin condoms it produces for the Japanese market to 80 million a year.
These products, made out of 0.02 millimeter-thick polyurethane, sell at retail for twice as much as Sagami’s standard latex offering, going for 1,000 yen (US$8.50) for a six-pack.
It’s Chinese demand for these more-expensive condoms that have caused the most frequent shortages, Ohato said. It’s also what prompted him to begin distributing them directly in China earlier this month.
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