Sometimes a company can find consumer gold in that suggestion box put out in the lunch room for employees to offer an opinion. Such was the case with the Kit Kat bar, the best selling chocolate treat in Japan.
The first Kit Kat chocolate candy was manufactured in England in 1935 by a confectionary company called Rowntree’s. An employee left a recommendation in the box that the company should create a snack that a tradesman could “take to work in his pack.” Rowntree’s listened and created a chocolate crisp with “four fingers” that could easily be broken apart into pieces.
The company, founded by Henry Isaac Rowntree in 1862, had used the name Kit Kat for a box of chocolates twenty years earlier that were not big sellers. The original moniker dates back to the 1690s when it was the calling card of a famous London literary club. The name was revived for the chocolate crisp along with the advertising pitch: “Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar!”
The popularity of the Kit Kat bar spread around the world eventually selling in over 100 countries. In addition to Japan, where the chocolate wafer arrived in 1973, the Kit Kat is the favorite chocolate bar in places like Thailand and Canada as well. The Japanese version has six fingers instead of four. It is reported that 700 Kit Kat fingers are gobbled up somewhere every second. In 1988, Rowntree’s sold the Kit Kat franchise to the Swiss conglomerate Nestlé and production was immediately ramped up to ever greater heights.
In 1996, the first flavor variant was introduced with Kit Kat Orange. Other new flavors such as mint and caramel soon followed. The novelty flavors gained popularity slowly in most markets but flavored Kit Kats became practically a mania in Japan. Over 300 flavors of Kit Kat bars have been sold here over the years. Some of the choices beyond milk chocolate include banana, strawberry cheesecake, ginger ale, creme brulee, sake, soy sauce, green tea, wasabi, and purple sweet potato. Food technicians are constantly experimenting with new flavors that will show up on store shelves someday.
So, are Japanese consumers just wild for the gooey goodness of Kit Kats? Not necessarily. It turns out the name “Kit Kat” is fortuitously close to the Japanese phrase “Kitto katsu” which translates to “you will surely win.” As a result, often the candy bars are bought and given as good luck tokens. Nestle took notice and has encouraged the distribution of Kit Kat bars at such times as nationwide annual exam-sitting for school students.
KitKat Japan works tirelessly to fuel the wafer candy craze. There are KitKat Chocolatory stores. There are a stream of Kit Kat-related innovations like the Kit-Kat-cum-train ticket and the Kit Kat croissant. There are two-fingered versions. Kit Kats wrapped in gold leaf are available for special occasions, or when a run of good fortune is truly needed. And if you search really hard you may even be able to find a milk chocolate Kit Kat in a red wrapper.