"We are planning to expand our business in the United States, starting sales of our products on the East Coast, in the north and in other areas in the near future," Kawabata said. Yakult's U.S. business has been limited mainly to the West Coast.
Currently it imports products to the United States from plants in Mexico, but Kawabata said it plans to build a U.S. factory that will likely begin production in 2012. He said the location is undecided. Yakult's products are currently sold by all major U.S. retail chains, including Wal-Mart and Safeway, Kawabata said.
In Japan and some other markets it relies on direct sales by thousands of "Yakult Ladies", who sell the drinks door-to-door and in office buildings. For the year to March 31 the company has forecast an operating profit of 17.5 billion yen ($191 million), up 4.5 percent from the previous year. It expects revenues of 288 billion yen, a 1.9 percent decline. It has also said its overseas operations will likely be dented by unfavourable currency rates, including a weaker Mexican peso versus the yen.
China is rapidly becoming an important market for many Japanese food makers, which increasingly target the country's growing number of affluent consumers. Yakult has also seen strong growth in China since it began operating there in 2002. Daily sales volume jumped 44 percent in in January-June 2009 from the same period a year earlier.
The Chinese business has now reached the point where profits from existing operations will more than offset expansions costs, Kawabata said. Yakult is also considering expanding production capacity in other fast-growing Asian markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and is eyeing the Middle East, Kawabata said. ($1=91.56 Yen) (Guardian)