Himawari Milk Companyyo

Yoshizawa-san, President (left), and Sakai-san, Chairman (right), of Himawari Milk Company stand in front of the statute of the founder of the company. The building behind the statue is the head office of the company, but looks like just an ordinary family house.
In Japan there are not only a number of nation-wide dairy companies such as Meiji and Morinaga but also local and small scale dairy companies and the latter are usually more familiar to the local people at least as far as drinking milk is concerned.

Many of those small dairy companies depend on the provision of drinking milk for school meals. The law on school meals was adopted in 1954 and in its attachment milk is explicitly mentioned as an important part of school meals parallel with bread or rice and side dishes. Despite of disputes whether milk is an "indispensable" part of school meals, milk is served in more than 90% of compulsory schools on more than 180 days in a year.

When school meals were resumed after WWII, skimmed milk granted by the US was served to school children to save them from malnutrition. We heard that skimmed milk was a by-product of butter and was usually given to livestock as feed in the US. It might be nutritious, but tasted awful for me. Bread in school meals was hard and mealy and tasted incredibly bad either. Therefore, milk and bread was a sort of nightmare for me and I hated meal time. Though, the Ministry of Education instructed schools to serve whole milk in 1958, I never experienced whole milk in school meals till the end of my school life in 1964.

Anyhow, in 1963 school milk came to be subsidized by the Government and sales of school milk became an important pillar for the business of local dairy companies. Even now many small local dairy companies virtually live from the income of their milk sales for school milk and they face increasing difficulty in their business, as the number of children continues to decrease.

Himawari Milk Company in Kochi also provides school milk. However, the importance of school milk for the company is limited - 6% of the total sales - and the good performance of the company is the result of innovative and imaginative management policy.

The President of Himawari Company Yoshizawa-san showed me his proud products. Among them I was fascinated by "Kochi bred" series of yoghurt. Kochi is, as I reported in another article, rich in agricultural products. Yoshizawa-san came to the idea to utilize this merit of Kochi for his products and created five kinds of delicious and original yoghurt: Yuzu (very fragrant citrus fruit), Aojiru (herb juice), Buntan (jumbo citrus fruit), Tomato (Sweet tomato is a specialty of Kochi.), Ginger (Ginger is also a specialty of Kochi.) and Uchu ("Uchu" means space. This yoghurt uses lactobacillus coming back from the stay in a space station).

Yoshizawa-san in front of the line-up of his products

Usual milk also underlines that it is the product of Kochi....

... and the farmer producing the milk contained shows his face on the package.
The lactobacillus used in the last item was indeed launched into the space using a Soyuz rocket. This was one of many ideas a group of Kochi people thought of to utilize the space.

Even in a time of general economic difficulties, such specialties are wanted by many consumers and selling well also outside of Kochi prefecture, mainly in the urban area of Osaka. A high-class supermarket chain in Tokyo area also sells them.

Three printed dates are from the top production, shelf life and milking.
Kochi specialties are the first bullets Yoshizawa-san uses to open up new markets. The next weapon is milk pasteurized at lower temperature and labeled with the day of milking. I checked the difference of taste between this milk and the usual high temperature / short time pasteurized milk, and to my surprise the difference was crystal clear. The freshness of milk, which is necessary for this item, can be easily secured at Himawari Company, because Himawari is a relatively small company and milk is transported directly from individual dairy farmer to the company's factory.

Though Himawari has many interesting products, it has only 3 staffs in the laboratory - among them two are young women - to develop new products. I presume that the company is heavily dependent on the innovative spirit of its owner, President Yoshizawa. As the company is confident of the attractiveness of its products, it can demand good prices for them, though nowadays drinking milk is often dumped, in particular in West Japan.

As a result of such efforts, Himawari Company expanded both its sales and profit last year. Now, Himawari is not a small local company anymore, but it can boast that 60% of its sales takes place outside of Shikoku Island.