I was walking through the LaLaport Mall on my way to the Kidzania opening reception when I came across the Berry cafe. I was blown away the first time I visited the branch in Omotesando in Tokyo. I just stood outside for a few minutes staring at all the beautiful cakes like a young man ogling Cameron Diaz (or any age man for that matter!). I have never seen such beauty and attention to detail. Such craftsmanship! The only catch is that one piece is Yen 700.

Maybe this will only work in Japan which has such a rich history of gift giving – the more expensive the gift then the more important the client or relative. Gifts in Japan must also have great eye appeal so one can understand why the Japanese like the Berry cafe. And when you consider the amount of fruit on the cakes and the high quality as well as the size of a piece then perhaps Yen 700 is not that expensive. But maybe I have lived in Japan too long in the past and these things seem so normal to me.

Of course Europe has great bakery and the stuff looks good also but not at the same level as the Japanese. As for my own country,the USA, other than a few big cities like New York, LA, San Francisco, etc, you can pretty much forget about getting good bakery. Some of the stuff you find in Whole Foods or other gourmet markets may look OK but you can taste the low quality of the ingredients from the first bite. In Japan you get quality and presentation but you must pay for it. And presentation is not just the cake itself but the box it comes in. Another point is that cakes in Japan are not very sweet – just sweet enough so you know it is dessert but not so sweet that your teeth hurt from all the sugar.

Berry Cafe is part of a lifestyle group, Comme Ca, which has retail stores across Japan selling furniture, fashion and food. A fusion of Europe and Japanese style. The company has not been very active overseas but I believe there is enormous potential for Japanese lifestyle companies around the world. Certainly Muji and Uniqlo are highly visible in most Asian capitals today but food chains other than Yoshinoya or Ajisen Ramen are rare.

Where can this type of concept work outside of Japan? Perhaps upper income areas in the USA like Manhattan, Greenwich Ct., Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Irvine and the like. There are probably enough good areas in the US to develop at least 100 stores. Asian capitals other than Seoul may be more difficult since the local population prefer local bakery products at very cheap prices and gift giving is not the “art” it is in Japan or Korea.

And what about China? Well the Chinese do like beautiful looking European bakery and buy cakes on special occasions like birthdays and weddings. They would definitely like the Berry cafe concept but they would not like the prices. Also, the training in China would be a challenge given the level of detail that goes into these cakes. The quality level is also quite low currently but if the Japanese can figure out how to deliver this high level of presentation at a reasonable cost they might well have fast growing business in China. For the moment, I will just have to wait until my next visit to Tokyo to enjoy these products. We have nothing like it in Hong Kong!

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