Japanese giant Tanita targets European growth

Visit any Japanese department store or sporting goods chain and you’ll find several metres of shelf space dedicated to Tanita – the Tokyo headquartered company behind the first ever body composition and fat analysis scales. Founded in 1944, an innovation-led approach and desire to empower consumers soon established Tanita as a household name in Japan. And the launch of its first BIA (bioelectrical impedance analysis) device in 1994, which enabled people to measure body fat percentage and muscle mass at home, propelled Tanita onto the world stage, as the leader in ‘health monitoring’ expertise.

Today, the business has sold over 30 million products worldwide and remains the “gold standard” for body composition technology. However, as Tanita Europe Managing Director Jan Alderlieste explained to Nigel Wright, outside of Asia few people recognise the brand. His mission is to reverse that fact. The former Nutricia executive, who joined the Amsterdam based business in 2014, has already overseen 25% growth in Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Though, Jan expects better results amidst so much “untapped potential.” He explained:

“As the industry pioneer, Tanita’s products still provide the most accurate measurement of body composition anywhere in the world. A combination of professional and consumer products is another unique element of our business – no other brand has such a broad product range in the body composition market. There is also a significant number of medical studies which validate Tanita technologies. If we take the necessary steps to leverage these assets, then we will easily position ourselves as a market leader in EMEA and Russia.”

The key issues are awareness and perception. When asked who Tanita’s main competitors are, Jan says: “Anyone who thinks in kilograms.” He explained how most people who join gyms, for example, want to lose weight, but after a few weeks give up because they’ve seen little improvement in kilo reduction. Tanita’s body composition scales, however, demonstrate how regular exercise causes the body to change quickly by revealing accurate analyses of fat loss and muscle gain: “When people learn about Tanita and its products, they soon get excited, but people tend to associate these devices with hospitals, GPs and other weight loss management organisations.”

In that ‘professional’ sector, the business is performing well. However, it’s the consumer market, according to Jan, which should be the main driver of Tanita’s growth. To create consumer demand, the strategy is focused on establishing Tanita as a recognised lifestyle brand. A period of organisational transformation has ensued, including ditching its traditional distributor model, investing in digital marketing capability and embedding a direct sales force in key markets. Tanita established offices and commercial teams in Stuttgart and Manchester in 2017 and started hiring sales people at its Amsterdam headquarters. With a French office also in the pipeline, Jan is confident of accelerating Tanita’s success:

“Currently, Tanita consumer products are mainly sold online, but our new sales force will help secure more retail partners who focus on health and a healthy lifestyle. People are most likely to encounter Tanita technologies in stores, in gyms but also with dieticians and weight-loss consultants, so those are key channels where we can inform people about the lifestyle benefits of body composition analysis.”

Personal trainers, athletes and “fanatic amateurs” who use Tanita products will be important influencers for getting ordinary people interested in body composition. And Jan sees BIA technology as “a loyalty and revenue generating tool” for gyms and fitness clubs. Furthermore, Tanita is seeking partnerships with relevant retailers, where in-store experts will be trained to use and sell their wares. Sport-Tiedje in Germany and Powerhouse Fitness in the UK are existing high value sports equipment customers, and Tanita's products are also now available in some larger Holland & Barrett stores, where the synergy between muscle gain analysis and protein powders complement both parties.

Retailers compete with online rivals by offering consumers in-store experiences, says Jan. He believes Tanita products are ideal for the “experiences driven” retail environment and a great way to build brand awareness.

Interestingly, the recent demand for wearable health monitoring technology is also facilitating Tanita's growth. A few years ago, though, the business took a strategic decision not to enter the wearable-tech category. That decision is starting to pay off, says Jan: “Tanita’s USP is accuracy and wearable technology doesn’t always guarantee that, therefore it’s not an area for us to exploit.” Wearable technologies also have short term product lifecycles, he added, which isn't aligned with the business strategy: “Our focus is building awareness of our core products and not investing in this market segment at this stage.”

In 2019, however, Tanita will launch an inventive new concept in the drinks category as it makes further in-roads into the broader lifestyle management industry. Already available in Japan, its ‘clever coffee’ product helps people burn fat quicker, and Jan and his team expect plenty of media exposure when its showcased at tradeshows and big consumer events like FIBO next year. Launching the clever coffee concept in Europe before Tanita’s core products are established demonstrates how entrepreneurship is valued at the business, says Jan: “Working here often feels like a start-up; it’s a very creative enterprise.”

This way of working is aligned with Jan’s leadership style, and the ambitions of the business in general, as he explained: “Encouraging creativity facilitates idea creation. I want people to come up with their own ideas within the parameters of our overall strategy. Tanita Europe is transforming from a purely distributor management model into a modern sales and marketing organisation. So, we need employees who are willing to embrace change every day and provide fresh perspectives on what we’re doing as a business and how we can improve.”

Moving forward, Tanita will continue building its teams and capabilities in the Netherlands, the UK and Germany, secure strategic partnerships and tailor its training to different customer segments. Jan added: "It’s my long-term ambition to establish Tanita as a leading lifestyle brand in Europe. My internal theme is continuous change. We’re on a journey together and I expect in 12 months’ time we’ll have made significant progress with our mission.”

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