Product Development Story
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
01Attempt to Create an Unprecedented Snack
Jagarico is one of the flagship brands of Calbee today. In an interesting contrast to the wide popularity the snack has enjoyed since its 1995 launch, development started in 1991 as a project undertaken by only five members. The person selected as the development leader was Hiroaki Yamasaki, then 31 years old.
"Calbee at that time was making a shift from conventional products to creating new products ordinary consumers wanted more. An idea suggested against such backdrop was a snack 'for outdoor consumption'—a portable, hands-clean and easy-to-eat snack packaged in a cup, instead of the prevailing bag of those days. And, we set a goal of creating an entirely new snack featuring fresh potatoes."
02New-to-the-World Innovation Launched by Five Members
New products and new businesses were attached much importance in the corporate strategy of Calbee at that time, for the company had just undergone a generational change in its management. Not only that, the idea of "a snack for outdoor consumption" was based on the analytical findings of the company's marketing survey. Yamasaki, appointed to the development leader, naturally felt under pressure.
"I was chosen to be the leader for I had already engaged in the development of two products. Our project team had five members, including those in charge of marketing and facilities. Two of them were my age, which means 31, and the other three had joined Calbee only two years before. However, although we were certainly rather young, we all had a persistent nature and an unyielding spirit. Our personalities eventually helped us when development got into full swing, but we were still unaware of it at that start."
Yamasaki also says that his project had a long series of challenges and failures, because making a snack by "deep-frying steamed fresh potatoes" was totally an unprecedented idea even within Calbee.
"We started by making the snack by hand. We steamed potatoes and deep-fried them in cooking oil, but the initial outcomes were too crunchy to eat. We, therefore, looked for ingredients to improve texture and repeatedly tried them. Once we found a helpful ingredient, we then changed its content by a few percent to determine the best blending ratio. Such incredible work went on and on."
03Years of Challenges to Materials and Machines
"Jagarico was totally different from other preceding snacks in terms of texture as well as manufacturing method. We were attempting what nobody else had ever done before, even within Calbee, so our development was full of troubles. Variations in workmanship were a typical example of the troubles we had. Since potatoes as a raw material are alive, their conditions vary greatly, even among those of the same variety, depending on their maturity as well as storage environment. For instance, their starch component is converted into sugar when their budding nears, and that leads to variations in the outcomes despite the same manufacturing conditions being applied. Another great factor was the difficulty in making adjustments, for Jagarico requires a complex production process. Even when grueling efforts seemed successful, the same conditions would yield completely different products with excessive oiliness. I remember how hard we struggled, without knowing what caused the trouble at that time."
Yamasaki also refers to the cooperation of the factory staff, which means those on the manufacturing scene, as an essential part of the success.
"As a new product requiring a complex process, Jagarico was certainly an irregular item for our factories. Factory people are generally reluctant to accept such test items for they tend to value stable production and routine work, so it was a great help to us that we could count on their support."
With the series of unanswered problems and repeated troubles, the project members had to suffer from almost endless anxiety.
04Birth of Jagarico - the Fruit of Unyielding Spirit
What helped them overcome such difficulties was, according to Yamasaki, the persistent nature and unyielding spirit possessed by all project members.
"As in any work, perhaps, the future depends on what you do when you run into an obstacle—whether you give up, or persevere. I believe that the project members had plenty of passion and guts to confront difficulties."
Jagarico finally went on the market in 1995, and Yamasaki continued to take on new challenges including the launch of as many as five factories.
"As I often say to our product development staff still today, the key to product development lies in observation to detect differences. Finding a difference between what made you fail and what made you succeed will help you see what you should do next. Your encounter with an obstacle is actually a starting point for you."
Now Jagarico has grown into one of Calbee's leading brands.
"Products have their growth curve just like humans. From this perspective, I can tell you that Jagarico is, as a product, still being developed continuously. Its lineup, which started with Salad and Cheese, has now expanded to include new basic items such as Large Size and Tarako Butter. I think that the product has been growing smoothly, based on the efforts we made for its launch and have passed down to the present."