THE BUSINESS WITH SUPERMARKETS
Toukai Fish Fillets was established by Mr. Nobuo Honda,
Mr. Honda's father, when he was repatriated from China after
World War II.
At first, Toukai Fish Fillets was a very small fish pickling
plant made in the urban part of Tokyo. They made pickled
red fish and snappers caught by drag net fisheries and sold
them to the Tukiji Wholesale Market, mostly to Touichi.
In the beginning of the 1970s, a Japanese food trading
corporation called Tokyo Maruichi Shouji, which had a large
share in trading with communist nations, started to import
capelin from Iceland. The capelin were frozen raw material,
and Toukai Fish Fillets was assigned to be in charge of the
secondary processing and sales of them in Japan.
The capelin were defrosted in Japan, salted, stuck with
bamboo sticks through their gill covers out to their mouths
and dried in that way. The final product was called "Capelin
With Roe" and it recorded a boom sales in the market.
Together with the sales of capelin, Toukai Fish Fillets grew
in size as a company. At the same time, in Japan, supermarkets
were in the way of growth, and Toukai Fish Fillets succeeded
in making contracts with them. As a result, Toukai Fish Fillets
enjoyed the economic boom together with the supermarkets.
The supply of capelin products couldn't catch up with it's
demand and Toukai Fish Fillets had to build new plants in
new locations one after another.
It was in the autumn of 1982, when I quit Touto Marine
Products and visited Mr. Honda. This was the time when the
capelin boom had calmed down a little. Competition with
new-comers in capelin business was getting severe. Profits
couldn't have been secured as before since the prices were
Toukai Fish Fillets took a strategy of stopping delivery to
wholesale markets and gathered its business pipes all to super-
markets. The aim of this was to run away from the low-price
competition of the wholesale market. But unexpectedly, it
was also the first step of the distress Toukai Fish Fillets was
going to face in the future.
Fish companies like Toukai Fish Fillets and other shippers
to wholesale markets like fishermen trading companies, factory
ship companies caused depression of the wholesale market by
their withdrawal from wholesale markets.
This is like asking if the egg comes first or the hen comes
Wholesale markets sell grades of fish that supermarkets
don't retail. So, if the wholesale market loses it's power, off-
grade item will lose their place of consumption and this will
depress the accounts of fish companies.
But in the first place, it can be said that the withdrawal
from the wholesale markets done by themselves caused this
Depression of the wholesale market is at the same time,
depression of fish prices.
Wholesale market low-prices lead to bargaining in super-
markets, which will lead fish companies into worse deficit.
Depression of fish business derived from depression of
wholesale market is making distribution of fish a quite dubious
one. Toukai Fish Fillets was also thrown into this rapid current.
Tokyo Maruichi Shouji and Touichi once used to back up
Toukai Fish Fillets financially, but they had withdrawn with
the decline of capelin sales. In exchange, as a sponsor of Toukai
Fish Fillets, came Nissho lwai, a Japanese general trading
corporation. Nissho lwai tried to take advantage of Toukai
Fish Fillets' superior sales network that contained most of the
major supermarket networks in Japan.
When I first started to work at Toukai Fish Fillets, I was
taken to the headquarters of supermarkets. It was a different
type of world compared to the fish business I saw at the Tukiji
Wholesale Market. The men working there were all graduates
from universities, who wore fancy neckties, neat suits, and
talked politely. This might have been a sight common for
ordinary people but from my eyes which had seen only the
hustle and bustle business of the wholesale market, it was quite
different. I felt like I had come back to the world I used to be:
to the ordinary world -- if there ever was one.
The supermarket buyers all seemed to act as taught in their
manual: from their eye glances to their intonations of their
My work at the Toukai Fish Fillets was to talk with the
buyers about things like, annual supply predictions of raw
material or scheduling the next month's bargain sales. There
were very few claims and almost no severe negotiations about
prices. So, the meetings always seemed to end up right. This
was also so different from the life in the wholesale market,
where you had to be always afraid of claims and complaints
from the middlemen or the rage of shippers when their ship-
ments were sold cheaply, compared to their ideal prices.
But behind the easy negotiations with supermarkets, there
was deep sensitiveness and ungenerosity against quality and