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Catch Yamamoto Food's
Pokémon Nebutazuke in Your Lunchbox:

Expansion of Sales and Target Audience through Anime/Character Collaboration


The Digital X offers consulting services not only for international expansion but also for local businesses.

Kohei Yamamoto, President and CEO of Yamamoto Foods Co., Ltd., observed that their customer base was aging and sought innovative ways to attract a younger audience. With the help of The Digital X's consulting, he initiated a collaboration with popular anime characters. In this case, the company works with the beloved Japanese animation Pokémon to launch the ‘Pokémon Nebuta’ nebutazuke by featuring Pikachu on its packaging.

We interviewed Mr. Yamamoto to learn more about the digital marketing support he received and the impact it had on his business.


  • Yamamoto Foods Co., Ltd.


  • Founded in 1935 Japan, Yamamoto Foods is a renowned Aomori-based food manufacturer specialising in soy sauce marinades made with premium seafood like herring roe and scallops. One of its flagship products, nebutazuke – a pickle dish synonymous with Aomori Prefecture, has been an all-time cherished souvenir and gift for nearly 60 years


  • Development of new nebutazuke products


  • Product planning and development

  • Comprehensive marketing support

  • ​Growth marketing

Expansion of
Target Audience


― Could you tell us about the main purpose and background of developing the 'Pokémon Nebuta' Nebutazuke?

Yamamoto: The primary goal of Yamamoto Foods is to expand its audience. While we've traditionally catered to older generations familiar with our products since childhood, the idea to collaborate with a beloved character stemmed from our desire to do something ‘distinctive’.

Our nebutazuke has thrived for nearly six decades – fueled by the nostalgic memories shared with our customers. To continue this legacy, Yamamoto Foods aims to bring joy to both local communities and customers nationwide and internationally. Moreover, in this modern era where everyone is often distracted digitally by tablets and smartphones, we hope this project will help foster meaningful connections between grandparents and grandchildren.


― What were the concerns and challenges you encountered before starting this project?

Yamamoto: Our current customer demographic skews towards older age groups, largely due to their lifelong familiarity with our products, which has sustained our sales over the years. However, looking ahead, we recognized the need to introduce local flavours to today's children early on to ensure stable future demand.


Furthermore, while our nebutazuke products experience peak sales during popular gifting seasons like August and December, Yamamoto Foods aims to enhance year-round demand by making it more appealing for everyday consumption.


― Why did you choose to use character IP (※)? Have you considered developing a unique brand mascot for your nebutazuke products?


Yamamoto: Our goal for this project was to directly capture children's attention, rather than targeting parents or adults as key consumers. When we explored the idea of creating our own character, we realized that its recognition might be limited to Aomori Prefecture. Simultaneously, starting from scratch would demand significant time and effort for promotion and story-building. Therefore, we decided that leveraging existing cartoon characters would be much more promising in creating a synergistic effect with broader reach.

(※) Character IP: Intellectual property rights associated with characters appearing in anime, games, etc., including trademarks, copyrights, and design rights.


Encourage Kids to Choose

Yamamoto Foods and Place Nebutazuke Products

in Their Shopping Baskets

― What changes have been observed upon receiving consulting and project management support from The Digital X?


Yamamoto: We had long discussed utilising intellectual property (IP) but lacked concrete plans beyond attending trade shows. Thanks to The Digital X's support, the project gained momentum and progressed swiftly with a sense of purpose.


― What specific solutions did The Digital X provide?


Yamamoto: When we envisioned children spotting our items on shelves and prompting their parents to purchase them instantly, The Digital X proposed several character designs tailored to our target age group. They managed inquiries with IP companies, negotiated terms, and ultimately, we both decided on packaging featuring photos of "Orga Pon & Pikachu Mae Nebuta," showcased at the 2023 Aomori Nebuta Festival.


― How was the decision made to choose Pokémon as the character IP?

Yamamoto: Favourable conditions converged at the project’s outset. Our approach coincided with Pokémon Company's preparations for the release of "Pokémon Scarlet & Violet: The Treasures of Zero," featuring a Nebuta float as a part of their promotional efforts. Pokémon Company expressed interest in leveraging the created Nebuta character ‘Orga Pon,’ which resonates with the imagery of northeastern Japan, leading to a mutually beneficial collaboration.


― What challenges did you face during the project?


Yamamoto: Overall, the project progressed smoothly. One notable challenge arose when Pokémon Company initially proposed aligning the product release with the Aomori Nebuta Festival, showcasing "Orga Pon & Pikachu Mae Nebuta." However, our branding principle mandated using Nebuta photos on our product packaging. 


As the Nebuta's completion occurred just before the festival, there was insufficient time to finalize the packaging. Fortunately, smooth negotiations allowed us to reschedule the official product launch to coincide with the game release in September. Despite the tight timeline from photoshoot to final design, printing, and shipping within 2 months, we managed to meet our deadlines.


― Did using another company's IP present any unforeseen challenges compared to your usual operations?


Yamamoto: Typically, we handle packaging production internally, but this project required strict adherence to Pokémon's world and design standards. Pokémon Company took the lead in the packaging design process to ensure colour accuracy and branding consistency. This involved detailed communication, multiple revisions, and test prints to meet their specifications. Balancing these tasks alongside our regular operations all in all highlight the complexities of external IP collaborations.

Project Progression
All Thanks to The Digital X


― How has the response been since the release of 'Pokémon Nebutazuke'?

Yamamoto: The announcement on Pokémon's official accounts sparked positive buzz, especially among SNS users who enjoyed the combination of Pokémon and nebutazuke, wherein our official social media pages achieved approximately 10 times our usual reach. 


We were pleasantly surprised by the initial response, which exceeded our expectations. As anticipated, not only children spotting Pokémon packaging in stores led to purchases by their parents, but there was also an increase in purchases for gift assortments, particularly from distant relatives.


― What should be considered when utilising another company's IP?

Yamamoto: When using another company's IP, it's essential to show enthusiasm for its use, but equally important is demonstrating how the product can benefit the IP holder. Convincing them of the brand's potential benefits can be challenging without clear advantages.


― Have you ever thought of developing new food products using character IP in the (near) future?

Yamamoto: Personally, I strongly believe in actively leveraging character IP. In the face of rural depopulation, projects that highlight local regions are invaluable. By revitalizing the community alongside fans, such initiatives can become intangible assets. Utilising IP within our capacity as a local company could be seen as a form of regional contribution. Yamamoto Foods looks forward to exploring the use of IPs associated with Aomori and similar local characters in the (near) future.


― How was the support provided by The Digital X?

Yamamoto: Using another company's IP significantly lightened our workload and reduced our burden. From initial inquiries to final execution, extensive communication with IP holders was crucial. Managing this internally, especially without a dedicated planning department, would have been daunting. Thanks to The Digital X's support, Yamamoto Foods successfully navigated from uncertainty to launching our product within just three months. Their expert project management ensured we seized market opportunities, aligning with game releases and other key events.

"We've successfully secured popular IPs, significantly reducing initial barriers," Naraoka, Project Manager at The Digital X emphasized the pivotal role of the consulting company.


For him, rethinking sales approaches and product development is crucial asides from new product distribution in the realm of marketing.


"Our challenge was broadening our appeal to a wider demographic. We focused on creating products that resonate with five-year-olds and families, leveraging anime and character IPs." Naraoka explained.


"The Digital X meticulously selected IPs that resonate with Yamamoto Foods’ target audience, subsequently – and successfully – collaborated with Pokémon," he added further. "We handled negotiations on usage rights, crafted compelling proposals, and carefully managed the project schedule for a successful product launch. Post-launch, the team continues to support in-store sales with effective communication strategies."


Marketing involves not only developing new distribution channels for new products but also re-thinking the sales strategies for existing products and engaging in product development. Recently, The Digital X was approached with a challenge to broaden the target demographic of Yamamoto Foods Co., Ltd. Our client aims to create products that would appeal to young children around the age of 5 and be enjoyable for the whole family. To achieve this, we leveraged popular anime and character IPs.

The team from The Digital X carefully selected IPs suitable for the target age group and reached out to the respective companies. As a result, we successfully collaborated with Pokémon. Our efforts included compiling and presenting proposals, negotiating licensing fees, managing communications with IP holders, and overseeing the overall project timeline to ensure a successful product launch. 

Post-launch, The Digital X will continue to support the promotion of these products in stores to boost sales.

Being located in a rural area doesn't mean collaborations are out of reach –

sometimes, it simply takes asking the right questions to open up new opportunities.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns regarding the article.

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