Yakult to Open Factory in US

Yakult Honsha, a Japanese maker of yoghurt-like drinks, plans to start output in the United States by 2012 to meet growing demand, the head of the company’s overseas business said on Thursday.

“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.

The firm, one-fifth owned by French food group Danone, was one of the earliest Japanese food companies to go abroad, starting with Taiwan in the 1960s.

Outside of Japan, it sells about 20 million bottles of its sweet-tasting lactic acid drink every day, with Mexico and Brazil among the largest of its more than 30 overseas markets.

The company is aiming to cover 45 countries in the future, he 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.