David Blecken
Jul 1, 2019

Japan's top 100 brands: Meiji, Suntory, Kao gain favour at home

Subtle changes in the top 10 reflect the power of premium and responsible positioning.

The international acclaim of Suntory products is likely to have raised its standing at home (Shutterstock)
The international acclaim of Suntory products is likely to have raised its standing at home (Shutterstock)


Just as Samsung continues to dominate the regional ranking, Panasonic still looks difficult to shake from atop the list of the top 100 brands in Japan. Apple remains close behind, but its premium status is likely to be holding it back somewhat against Panasonic’s mass appeal and highly diversified product lineup. Despite Japan’s level of advancement as a consumer market, Apple is not a brand that everyone can identify with.

In third place, Meiji, the snackfood brand, managed to overake Sony. Meiji is perennially strong, but its ascent might have something to do with a stated commitment to premium and in particular healthier chocolate products. Last year, the company made an investment of around $245 million to increase production facilities in this area. It is outperforming Morinaga, which fell one place to sixth.

Sony’s slight move down is unlikely to indicate any real change in perception. The brand continues to perform strongly in its home market, and the turnaround engineered by retiring chairman Kazuo Hirai and financial chief Kenichiro Yoshida looks robust.

Regionally, Panasonic and Sony both ranked third and fourth respectively for a second year, and were the only two brands to make it into the top 10.

Sharp, another brand to have recently stepped back from the brink, fell a couple of places in the Japan ranking to eighth. Regionally it came in at 32, down one place on last year.

The only drinks brand in Japan’s top 10 was Suntory, which like Kirin and Asahi has a broad range of alcoholic and soft beverages. It moved up two places to five, and regionally climbed 25 places to 111. The rise isn’t easy to explain, but the brand is clearly still enjoying the benefits of its highly regarded whisky products in recent years, even though they are now in short supply. International acclaim in a prestige category goes a long way for a brand with a large product portfolio, and it’s something that its competitors lack.

Cosmetics and personal care giant Kao made it into Japan’s top 10 and edged up the regional ranking to 73. The brand in April adopted a new positioning, which it calls the ‘Kirei [beautiful] lifestyle plan’ and is driven by the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Whether this will help lift the brand further remains to be seen, but some form of commitment to sustainability is becoming a hygiene factor as Asian consumers subject major brands to greater scrutiny and decide their purchases accordingly.

Meanwhile, Shiseido dropped out of the top 10 by four places in Japan, and slid 11 to 58 regionally, despite continuing to produce bold and distinctive branding work. Stepping up its efforts to grow internationally, the company opened its global innovation centre in Yokohama in April. The stated aim is to promote “comprehensive communication and collaboration with consumers, researchers, business partners and experts inside and outside of Japan”.

A further surprising fall was Uniqlo, which despite its popularity slid from 34 to 49 in Japan and from 38 to 69 regionally.

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