A beloved Japanese sweet eaten for generations, so iconic it was even featured in a hit anime movie, has come to the end of the line, a victim of rising commodity and energy prices.
Tokyo-based Sakumaseika Co said on Wednesday it would close in January due to rising production costs, labor shortages and a drop in sales of its main product, “Sakuma’s Drops.”
The discontinuation of its trademark candy, colorful hard fruit drops sold in a red steel can, has put Japan in mourning.
“We always had a can at home when I was in elementary school,” said 53-year-old candy store owner Naoe Watanabe, recalling how she used to use a 10-yen coin to open the lid of the candy — a staple in corner candy stores for 114 years.
“It feels like a sign of the times. There are so many options now, compared to when I was a kid,” she said.
Sakumaseika said he hadn’t raised the price of the product, which consists of eight flavors including strawberry and lemon, for years. Many Japanese companies remain hesitant to raise prices or fully pass on rising input costs for fear of losing customers.
The future of Sakumaseika’s roughly 100 employees remains uncertain, a company representative said. The company declined to comment further.
Established in 1908 by confectioner Sojiro Sakuma, Sakumaseika produced the candy through the air raids of World War II, inspiring anime giant Studio Ghibli to immortalize it in its 1988 film Grave of the Fireflies.
In that movie, set during the war, an orphaned girl struggling to survive with her brother, carries with her the red can of Sakuma’s Drops, one of the brothers’ few possessions after their house is destroyed.
DIFFICULTY OF CHOICE
Hiroshi Matsuzawa, owner of a snack shop on a popular shopping street in Tokyo, said Sakuma’s Drops were more popular with older consumers, while children were spoiled for choice with countless new products.
Teruyo Ishiguro, who runs a mom-and-pop “dagashiya” snack shop, traditionally a tech stop for kids on their way home from school, said he had stopped selling Sakuma’s Drops last year, noting that most of buyers tended to be in their 50s or older.
“It’s very sad to see something that has been around for so long disappear,” the octogenarian, who has been selling snacks for more than 60 years, told Reuters.
Near-double-digit wholesale inflation and a weak yen have cut profits for many food producers. In January, the maker of the popular Umaibo corn snack raised prices for the first time since the snack’s debut in 1979, making national headlines.
Sakumaseika suffered a net loss of more than 150 million yen ($1 million) in fiscal 2021, according to credit survey firm Tokyo Shoko Research, which first reported the company’s closure on Wednesday.
Still, all is not lost for fans.
Its rival Sakuma Confectionery Co, which was formed when its management split from Sakumaseika after the war, will continue to produce a similar product, under the confusing name Sakuma Drops, which is marketed in a similar can but in green.
“As a competitor, we are saddened” by Sakumaseika’s departure, a Sakuma Confectionery spokesman said. “But maybe we put more effort into trying new ways, a new line of products.” ($1 = 145.2900 yen)