Posted: December 1, 2014 |  AUTHOR: KEN FOX | CONTACT ME


Japan is experiencing challenging economic problems, including subpar economic growth, a devaluation of the yen and decades of deflation. However, large, and often privately held, Japanese companies are quietly thriving. These companies are often turning away from domestic (Japanese) opportunities for growth, and going overseas instead. One such company is the Mizkan Group. mizkan


The Mizkan Group was established in 1804 as an international food manufacturer based in Handa City, Japan. The company is internationally known for providing marinades, vinegar (including seasoned rice vinegars), soy sauces, green chile, jalapeno and tomatillio peppers, among other products. In January 2014, the company reported a five year plan saying it needs to expand overseas as the Japanese population shrinks. As part of that goal, Mizkan acquired the Ragu and Bertolli brands from Unilever in late May 2014 for $2.15  billion. (or JPY 215 billion). As part of this acquisition, the company expects to enhance it’s expansion in North America as it develops a focus away from Japan.


This acquisition builds upon other recent acquisitions of ingredient food companies and brands including:

-September 2005-Mizkan acquires Beijing based Wadakan Investment Holding Company, a leading manufacturer of soy sauce and vinegar products in China.

-December 2005-Mizkan acquires Holland House (established in 1887) line of products from the Motts Division of Cadbury Schweppes America. The Holland House cooking wines represent the leading brand of retail cooking wines in the U.S. (60% market share).

-April 2008-Acquires the Gourmet and Specialty Division of Imperial Brands, the largest U.S. commercial supplier of vinegar and cooking wine, including Edmundo Cooking Wine and Paul Dupre Wine Reduction Sauces, among other brands.

-January, 2010-Acquires the World Harbors Sauces and Marinade lines as well as  Buccaneer Barbeque Sauces. The acquisition also includes the exclusive right to manufacture and distribute Angostura mixers in the U.S. Angostura is known for its bitters and mixers which can be used to add flavor to a variety of drinks and food recipes. These rights reflect a new distribution channel for the company through U.S. liquor stores and related retail outlets.

-May 2011, Mizkan acquires Border Foods (Deming, New Mexico), the world’s largest processor of green chile peppers, and the largest U.S. processor of jalapeno peppers. This allows Mizkan to offer products to the growing Hispanic food market in North America.

-October 2012 acquires UK brands of vinegar: Sarson’s and Dufrais, Branston’s line of sweet pickles, as well as table sauces, relish, ketchup and significant private label business from Premier Foods, PLC.

Mizkan U.S. Headquarters

Mizkan established Mizkan America in 1981 in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. This division has been responsible for the above North American acquisition. It sells branded and private label products in North America. Some of these brands include: Nakano, Four Monks, Barengo, El Diablo and Mitsukan, which include mustards, cooking wines, sushi seasonings, salad dressings, Asian sauces and other liquid condiments.

Mizkan in Europe is known as Mizkan Ureo. It was established in 1998. Mizkan established the Asia Pacific division regional headquarters in Singapore in 2004. Two additional Asia Pacific branches were later (2006) in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Mizkan Group has operating facilities around the globe, including: Japan, China, UK, U.S., Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. It has 15 manufacturing plants in the U.S. The recent Ragu and Bertolli’s acquisition will provide additional U.S. manufacturing facilities, a sauce processing and packaging plant in Owensboro, Kentucky and a tomato processing plant in Stockton, California.



Further support for Japanese company expansion in growth markets like the U.S. is exemplified by Suntory Holdings (based in Osaka). This privately held company acquired Jim Beam brands in January 2014. Suntory bought the brands from Beam, Inc. (based in Deerfield, Illinois, U.S.) for $13.6 billion. This Suntory acquisition gives control over brands recognized globally and provides Suntory from a ranking of #15 in global liquor dollar sales to #3 behind only UK based Diageo PLC and France’s Pernod Ricard, SA.

The Suntory acquisition from Beam, Inc. includes a growing bourbon business. These leading bourbon brands include: Jim Beam, Makers Mark and Knob Creek. It also includes brands of vodka, Scotch, rum, gin, brandy, cognac, tequila, and rye, which builds on other Suntory beverage businesses, including Orangina, and a Japanese beer.

Suntory and Beam Inc. had already been distribution partners, with Suntory distributing Beam’s products in Japan and Beam distributing Suntory’s products in Singapore and other Asian markets.


The Japanese economy has taken a turn for the worse, especially since the summer of 2014. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies to “revive Japan” have so far failed. The country is in a recession. Several government actions contributed to this unfavorable position, including:

The Bank of Japan introduced a massive monetary stimulus plan (worth 80 million yen annually) as a bid to overcome deflation.

The government announced a rise in the consumption or value added tax from 5% to 8% in early April, 2014.

These actions have caused the valuation of the Japanese yen versus the U.S. dollar to fall to its almost lowest level in seven years.

Summary Chart Japanese Yen versus U.S. Dollar Exchange

Showing amount of yen equivalent to $1 dollar

2014 Select Dates # Yen= $1

November 26 117.75

November 3 113.92

October 16 105.96

October 1 109.30

September 15 107.18

September 1 103.76

August 1 102.01

Note: The above chart shows the devaluation of the yen versus the U.S. dollar, i.e., it takes more yen to buy a U.S. dollar in November than August 2014.

No wonder Japanese companies are seeking growth outside Japan. Mizkan and Suntory were obviously sitting on capital waiting to invest. We do not know if the Japanese companies hedged or utilized their U.S. subsidiaries to acquire the above mentioned brands with U.S. dollars. Regardless, these two Japanese companies successfully identified growing niche markets. Prime Minister Abe will continue to implement new and changing economic reforms. The trend seems to be Japanese companies finding growth outside Japan. 



  1. Miskan website (
  2. Mizkan Group Acquires Ragu & Bertolli from Unilever, PR Newswire, May 22, 2014
  3. Mizkan Expands Portfolio with Acquisition of World Harbors Sauces & Marinades, PR Newswire, January 11, 2010
  4. Mizkan Acquires Border Foods in Deming, Albuquerque Business First, May 12, 2011
  5. Mizkan Acquires Holland House Brands, PR Newswire, December 27, 2005
  6. Unilever Keeps Selling Foods; Mizkan Keeps Buying, www.MediPost, May 22, 2014
  7. Yen Slips to Seven-Year Low as Central Banks Diverge, Bloomberg News, November 1, 2014
  8. Mizkan Americas Parent Company, The Mizkan Group Acquires Leading Chinese Company, PR Newswire, September 20, 2005
  9. Thirsty for Bourbon, Suntory to Pay $13.6 Billion for Beam, Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2014
  10. Suntory Enters World Stage, Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2014
  11. Same Race, Same Horse, The Economist, November 22-28, 2014
  12. Lackluster Economic Data Paints Gloomy Picture for Abe, Japan Today, November 29, 2014
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