It’s not a typo. Thirty. Years.
Founded in 1926, Asahiya sold meat products from Hyogo Prefecture – Kobe beef included – for decades before adding beef nuggets to shelves in the years following World War II.
But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that these fried potato and beef dumplings became an internet sensation, resulting in a ridiculously long wait for shoppers.
An unprofitable business idea
The coveted “extreme kibble” is one of four types of Kobe beef kibble available at Asahiya. Can’t wait three decades? The store’s Premier Kobe beef kibble currently has a more palatable four-year waiting list.
“We started selling our products through online shopping in 1999,” says Shigeru Nitta, Asahiya’s third-generation owner. “At that time, we were offering Extreme Croquettes as a trial.”
Growing up in Hyogo, Nitta has been visiting local ranches and beef auctions with her father since he was young.
He took over his father’s shop in 1994 when he was 30 years old.
After experimenting with e-commerce for a few years, he realized that customers were hesitant to pay big bucks for premium beef online.
Shigeru Nitta is the third generation owner of Asahiya.
It was then that he made a bold decision.
“We sold Extreme Kibbles for 270 JPY ($1.8) per piece…The beef in them alone costs about 400 JPY ($2.7) per piece,” Nitta explains.
“We have made affordable and tasty kibbles that demonstrate our shop concept as a strategy for customers to enjoy the kibbles and then hope they will buy our Kobe Beef after the first try.”
To limit the financial loss at first, Asahiya only produced 200 kibbles in her own kitchen next to her shop each week.
“We sell beef raised by people we know. Our store only sells meat produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe Beef, Kobe Pork, or Tajima Chicken. It’s been the style of the store since before I owned it,” says Nitta.
In fact, Nitta’s grandfather used to go to Sanda – another famous Wagyu breeding area in Hyogo – by bicycle with a handcart to collect the produce himself.
“Since that time, our store had links with local beef producers, so we didn’t need to source them from outside the prefecture,” Nitta adds.
Production has increased but popularity is growing
The cheap price of Extreme Kibbles goes against the quality of the ingredients. They are prepared fresh daily without preservatives. Ingredients include three-year-old A5-rated Kobe beef and potatoes sourced from a local ranch.
Nitta says he encouraged the ranch to use cow manure to grow the potatoes. The stems of the potatoes will then be fed to the cows, creating a cycle.
Eventually, his unique concept caught the attention of locals and the media. When a news story about Asahiya’s croquettes came out in the early 2000s, their popularity skyrocketed.
“We stopped selling them in 2016 because the waiting time increased to over 14 years. We thought we would stop orders, but we received many calls asking to continue offering them,” says Nitta.
The extreme kibbles are made with three-year-old A5-rated female Kobe beef.
Asahiya started taking orders for the kibble again in 2017, but raised the price.
“At that time, we raised the price to 500 JPY ($3.4)-540 JPY ($3.7) with the consumption tax. But since the export of Kobe beef started, the prices beef have doubled, so the fact that kibble production is running a deficit hasn’t changed,” says Nitta.
Production has also increased from 200 croquettes per week to 200 croquettes per day.
“In reality, Extreme Kibbles have become much more popular than other products,” laughs Nitta, laughing at her own money-losing business idea.
“We hear that we should hire more people and make kibble faster, but I think there is no trader who hires employees and produces more to make more deficit… I’m sorry for keeping them waiting. I want to make kibble quickly and send it as soon as possible, but if I do, the store will go bankrupt.”
Luckily, Nitta says about half of people who try the kibble end up ordering their Kobe beef, so it’s a good marketing strategy.
Nitta’s Mission: Helping More People Enjoy Kobe Beef
Each box of Extreme Croquettes, which includes five pieces, sells for JPY 2,700 ($18.40).
The store sends out a regular newsletter to pending customers informing them of the latest shipping estimate.
One week before the delivery date, the store will re-confirm delivery with patient customers.
“Of course, some people have changed their email address. For these people, we call them directly and let them know the delivery date. They can change their address themselves via our website or when we call them, they can let us know.” Nitta said.
Customers receiving kibble these days were placing their orders about 10 years ago.
Having a 30-year list of unprofitable orders to fulfill can be stressful, especially as the price of Kobe beef and labor continue to rise.
But something more important encouraged Nitta to continue.
The waiting time for these frozen Extreme Croquettes is currently around 30 years.
“When I started selling kibble on the internet, I received many orders from isolated and remote islands. Most of them had heard about Kobe beef on TV but had never had it. because they had to go to town if they wanted to try it. I realized that there were so many people who had never eaten Kobe beef.
“Because of that, I kept offering kibble on a trial basis and got more orders for Kobe beef if they liked it. That’s why I started in the first place, so I didn’t really care if it was a deficit,” says Nita.
One of the most memorable moments was when they received an order from a cancer patient who was about to have surgery while waiting for his Extreme Kibbles.
“I heard that our kibbles were the patient’s motivation to undergo surgery. That’s what surprised me the most,” says Nitta.
The patient survived and has placed several orders since then.
Nitta received a call from the patient who told her “I hope to live a long time without a recurrence of cancer” after tasting her kibbles.
“I still remember it. I was moved by the comment,” Nitta says.
By allowing more people to enjoy Kobe beef, he hopes the awareness of these kibbles will help promote the local industry.
“I’m grateful. By becoming famous, I think I can help the whole industry, not just my shop, by getting people who haven’t been interested in Kobe beef. I want as many people as possible to eat Kobe beef. Kobe beef — not just from my shop,” says Nitta.
How to enjoy beef croquettes now
Asahiya now has two locations: their original store in Takasago City and a store in Kobe City. Its frozen beef croquettes are only shipped to the domestic market.
Although Asahiya operates primarily as a butcher, Nitta says travelers can visit their Kobe shop, where they sell two types of ready-to-eat snacks called “Tor Road” and “Kitanozaka” croquettes, named after nearby streets. .
“Kitanozaka” uses lean beef and costs 360 JPY ($2.5) each. “Tor Road” uses a short lanyard and chuck and costs 460 JPY ($3.1).
“We age the meat for 40 days and the potatoes for a month so they are sweeter,” says Nitta.
As for the future, the 58-year-old owner says they are considering expanding.
“I would like to create a little space where people could eat a little, maybe. Our store in Kobe is a tourist spot,” he says. “But if it becomes a restaurant, our neighboring restaurants might be annoyed because we also supply the meat to them.”
Top image credit: Asahiya.