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The Kit Kat Break: A Global Sensei-tion*

*Intentionally misspelled to play off the word Sensei as a teacher, in this case, how Kit Kat can teach other brands how to play globally

I recently discovered that the crispy chocolate wafer known in the U.S. as a Kit Kat bar has an entirely different persona in Tokyo. The chocolate wafer known for its trendsetting taste innovations features over 350 flavor combinations from Maccha Green Tea to Cherry Blossom, Wasabi to Apple Vinegar, as temptations for the discerning Japanese palate. So it should come to no surprise that the Kit Kat bar has earned its spot as the top-selling confection in Japan.

A global household brand with a catchy jingle the Kit Kat ranks as the world’s best chocolate bar and has consistently held a top spot as an American Halloween treat. So how did a four finger wafer make its way from an enterprising chocolatier in York to one of Nestlè’s premier product lines? By strategically positioning itself for globalization way before anyone knew what that even meant.


London chocolatier Rowntree founded the chocolate crisp in 1935, the close of the world wars inspired a rebrand and soon after, the Kit Kat began to circumnavigate the world, starting with Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.

In the early 1970s, Kit Kat launched in the U.S. under a Hershey Corp. license and the real golden ticket came from its partnership with confectionery Fujiya Ltd as it rolled out in Japan. Nestlè purchased Rowntree in 1988 and has maintained the Kit Kat brand ever since, including its continued global expansion most recently into Central and Eastern Europe as well as South America.

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Entering the Japanese market proved most fortuitous, thanks in part to the candy’s branding identity. Kitto katsu, the Japanese translation for Kit Kat is an omen of good luck and solidified the candy’s future as a favorite gift item among school children and adults alike.

Kit Kat production took off in the early days of the millennium when innovators at Nestlè Japan began experimenting with flavor combinations and designer packaging to attract more consumers. The flavor explosion has contributed to a 50% increase in sales for the confection and with two Nestlè-owned factories based in Japan, one of which offers guided tours for Kit Kat enthusiasts, that percentage will inevitably surge.

Hershey’s equally invested, convinced that the four finger wafer was poised to become the “next $1 billion global brand,” they recently backed a $60 million expansion of its plant in Hazelton, Pennsylvania solely dedicated to producing 400,000 Kit Kats per day.

And it’s not just the licensees who are on board, chocolatiers, chefs and even Nestlè itself are thinking beyond the chocolate box to monetize on Kit Kat’s popularity:

  • Just in time for the holidays, Nestlè launched KitKat Senses to corner the ‘posh’ luxury sweets market with a retro hipster advert.
  • KitKat Chocolatory unleashed pop-up appearances in London, Toronto, Melbourne and Ginza bringing a palate of flavors for fans to taste and test out new configurations with the opportunity to design a custom bar.
  • Next up, sake pairings. The latest Kit Kat release includes a sampling of sake and chocolate, a collaboration between Japanese soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata and Wakayama-based sake maker, Heiwa Shuzou, on a variation of plum wine.
  • Valentine’s Day, Kit Kat collaborated with Barry Callebaut on the debut of Ruby chocolate, a cocoa bean which features a fresh berry-fruity taste and characteristic pink color.
  • Kit Kat enlisted the talents of internationally acclaimed Chef Patissier Yasumasa Takagi to craft Japan-exclusive flavor creations sold at flagship KitKat Chocolatorys throughout the island.


The customer journey continues to be critical in driving retailer sales. Brands can learn from Nestlè’s understanding of its customers point of view of their product. To make a significant difference, Nestlè has created various heightened touch-points to optimize the experience, including introducing cultural diversity into the equation, as we can see from their success in Japan.

Nestlè carries the torch for brand value with its star product, as the Kit Kat continues to play an organically yet crucial role entertaining and delighting its consumer base worldwide. Share your favorite KitKat flavor, tweet me @anjeesolankiCRE.

Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape … driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!