Japanese beef croquettes with a 30-year waiting list

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(CNN) – If you order a box of frozen Kobe beef croquettes from Asahiya, a family-run butcher shop in the city of Takasago in western Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture, it will be another 30 years before you receive your order.

This is not a typo. Thirty. Years.

Founded in 1926, Asahiya sold meat products from Hyogo Prefecture, including Kobe beef, for decades before adding beef croquettes to the shelf in the years after World War II.

But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that these potato-and-beef balls became an Internet sensation, leading to the ridiculously long waits shoppers now face.

An unprofitable business idea

The highly coveted “Extreme Croquettes” are one of four types of Kobe beef croquettes available at Asahiya. Can’t you wait three decades? Currently, the store’s Kobe Premier beef croquettes have a waiting list of more than four years.

“We started selling our products through online shopping in 1999,” explains Shigeru Nitta, third-generation owner of Asahiya. “At the time, we offered Extreme Croquettes as a test.”

Growing up in Hyogo, Nitta has been visiting local ranches and meat auctions with her father since she was a child.

He took over the store from his father in 1994 when he was 30 years old.

After experimenting with e-commerce for several years, he realized that customers were hesitant to pay a large amount of beef online.

croquettes 2

Shigeru Nitta is the third generation owner of Asahiya.

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That’s when he made a bold decision.

“We sold extreme croquettes at the price of JPY 270 ($1.8) per piece… The beef alone costs about JPY 400 ($2.7) per piece,” says Nitta.

“We made affordable and tasty croquettes that demonstrate our store concept as a strategy for customers to enjoy the croquettes and then expect them to buy our Kobe beef after the first try.”

To limit the financial loss in the beginning, Asahiya only produced 200 croquettes in his own kitchen next to his shop every week.

“We sell the beef raised by the people we know. Our shop only sells meat that was produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe beef, Kobe pork, or Tajima chicken. This has been the style of the shop since from before I owned it,” says Nitta.

In fact, Nitta’s grandfather used to go to Sanda, another famous Wagyu breeding area in Hyogo, by bicycle with a handcart to collect the products himself.

“Since that period, our shop had connections with local beef producers, so we didn’t have to source them from outside the prefecture,” adds Nitta.

Production increased but popularity grows

The cheap price of Extreme Croquettes flies in the face of the quality of the ingredients. Fresh newspapers are made without preservatives. Ingredients include three-year-old A5 female Kobe beef and potatoes from a local ranch.

Nitta says she has encouraged the ranch to use cow manure to grow the potatoes. The potato stalks will then be fed to the cows, creating a cycle.

Eventually, his unique concept caught the attention of locals and the media. When a report on Asahiya croquettes was published in the early 2000s, their popularity skyrocketed.

“We stopped selling them in 2016 because the waiting time became more than 14 years. We were thinking of stopping orders, but we got a lot of calls asking them to keep offering them,” says Nitta.

The extreme croquettes are made with three-year-old female Kobe beef graded A5.

The extreme croquettes are made with three-year-old female Kobe beef graded A5.

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Asahiya resumed accepting orders for these croquettes in 2017, but increased the price.

“At that time, we raised the price to JPY500 ($3.4)-JPY540 ($3.7) with the consumption tax. But since the export of Kobe beef began, beef prices have have doubled, so the fact that kibble production is in a deficit has not changed,” says Nitta.

Production has also been increased from 200 croquettes per week to 200 croquettes per day.

“Extreme croquettes were actually much more popular than other products,” laughs Nitta, laughing at his own money-losing business idea.

“We feel that we should hire more people and make croquettes faster, but I don’t think there is any owner who will hire workers and produce more to make more deficit. . . I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I want to make croquettes. quickly and send – them as soon as possible, but if I do, the store will go out of business.”

Fortunately, Nitta says about half the people who try the croquettes end up ordering their Kobe beef, so it’s a solid marketing strategy.

Nitta’s mission: For more people to enjoy Kobe beef

Each box of extreme croquettes, which includes five pieces, sells for 2,700 JPY ($18.40).

The store sends a regular newsletter to waiting customers updating them on the latest shipping estimate.

One week before the delivery date, the store will confirm the delivery with the patient customer once again.

“Of course, some people have changed their email addresses. For those people, we call them directly and let them know the delivery date. They can change it themselves through our website or when we call them, we they can let you know.” says Nitta.

Customers who receive croquettes these days placed their orders about 10 years ago.

Having a 30-year backlog of unprofitable orders to fulfill can be stressful, especially as the price of Kobe meat and labor continues to rise.

But something more important has encouraged Nitta to continue.

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The wait time for these frozen Extreme Croquettes is about 30 years at the moment.

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“When I started selling croquettes on the Internet, I received many orders from remote, isolated islands. Most of them had heard about Kobe beef on TV, but had never had it because they had to go to the cities if they wanted to try it. I noticed. that there were so many people who have never had Kobe beef.

“That’s why I continued to offer croquettes as a test, and I got more orders for Kobe beef if they liked it. That’s why I started in the first place, so I didn’t really care if it was a deficit,” he said. says Nitta.

One of the most memorable moments was when they received an order from a cancer patient who was about to undergo surgery while waiting for their Extreme Croquettes.

“I felt that our kibbles were the patient’s motivation to go through with the surgery. That surprised me the most,” says Nitta.

The patient survived and has made several orders since then.

Nitta received a call from the patient who told her, “I hope to live a long time without cancer recurrence” after tasting her croquettes.

“I still remember it. I was touched by the comment,” says Nitta.

By letting more people enjoy Kobe beef, he hopes the fame of these croquettes will help promote the local industry.

“I’m grateful. By becoming famous, I think I can help the whole industry, not just my shop, by getting people who haven’t been interested in Kobe beef interested. I want as many people can eat Kobe beef — not just from my shop,” says Nitta.

How to taste beef croquettes now

Asahiya now has two locations: its original store in Takasago City and a store in Kobe City. Their frozen beef croquettes only ship domestically.

Although Asahiya works primarily as a butcher, Nitta says travelers can visit his shop in Kobe, where he sells two types of ready-to-go snacks called “Tor Road” and “Kitanozaka” croquettes, which are named after the nearby streets

“Kitanozaka” uses lean beef and is priced at JPY 360 ($2.5) each. “Tor Road” uses short loin and chuck and costs JPY 460 ($3.1).

“We age the meat for 40 days and the potatoes for a month to make them sweeter,” says Nitta.

As for the future, the 58-year-old owner says they are thinking of expanding.

“I’d like to make a small space where people can eat a little bit, maybe. Our Kobe store is a tourist spot,” he says. “But if it becomes a restaurant, our neighboring restaurants may be upset that we’re supplying them with the meat as well.”

Top Image Credit: Asahiya.

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