The Ezaki family has been creating and innovating confectionary products, including the immensely popular Pocky, since 1922. Their company, Ezaki Glico is currently run by Katsuhisa Ezaki, who has been serving since 1982.
First sold in 1966, Pocky consisted of a biscuit stick coated with chocolate. Simply enough, right? It had sales of ¥30b yen in its first two years (roughly $30.2b USD) and was an instant hit among Japanese teenagers.
After the death of one of his sons, Riichi Ezaki had retreated to a fishing village and noticed a group of very healthy and active children playing. Further investigation yielded the villagers’ high consumption of oysters which contained elevated levels of glycogen.
Convinced of the diet-to-good health relationship, Riichi began extracting glycogen for use in foods, particularly in confectionery, in order to improve the health of Japanese children.
The result was a caramel candy containing glycogen named “Glico” in 1921. The following year, their company was born. By 1925, the company was forced to expand its production capacity and moved to a new manufacturing facility. Glico was on its way!
They were clever at PR too
Glico was an innovator on other fronts as well. Early on, the company adopted a successful publicity campaign called, “300 Meters on a Single Piece,” featuring the Glico Running Man, the company’s mascot. The implication was that a single piece of Glico candy provided enough energy to run a 300-meter race.
“Pocky,” after the sound Pocky makes when bitten. The original was followed by “Almond Pocky” and today includes mousse, green tea, and coconut flavored coatings.
Life is like a box of chocolates
The early 1980s were marred by a series of crimes conducted by the “Phantom with 21 Faces” gang targeting Japanese confectioners including Glico, Morinaga, and food companies: Marudai Ham and House Food Corporation. The gang laced a dozen packages of chocolates with cyanide, causing a national panic and forcing a number of confectioners to withdraw all products. Glico had a resulting loss in sales of more than $21 million and laid off 450 part-time workers.
In 1984, the gang kidnapped then (and current) Glico president, Katsuhisa Ezakia, in return for a ransom of ¥1 billion and 100 kilograms of gold bullion. Katsuhisa escaped three days later but Glico’s headquarters were firebombed for more money. By 1985, however, the crime wave ended when the gang suddenly declared that it would not engage in further attacks. They never caught the gang but you can learn more here.
The innovation continues
Glico has continued to innovative and today has a market cap of $119b. In 2005, they announced the development of a process to transform wood cellulose, which was normally indigestible by human beings and most animals, into amylose, a substance which can be digested. Net net? It means we can one day eat wood and make it taste like candy!
World hunger? Pst!