Yakult is not a name commonly associated with cosmetics. It is most well known for being the producer of arguably Japan’s most popular probiotic drink. Bottled in a tiny, stylized 65 ml container, the drink is also sold in 31 different countries. Yakult’s biotechnological research has led the company to develop substances it deemed suitable for high quality skin care and these products are marketed through their cosmetics branch, Yakult Beautiens.
Part of the company’s marketing strategy is to hold tours of the production factory in Fujisawa, a small seaside town south of Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture. Yakult Beautiens offers luxury products and the factory, revamped into a showroom style facility, certainly reflects that image. Walking up the thick carpeted stairs, visitors are welcomed by the scent of pine aromatherapy. The salon we sit in is spacious and comfortable and the aroma of citrus ylang-ylang permeates the space.
Then the product sampling begins. On the day of my visit, it was the Parabio line on display. The line features Yakult’s original production of hyaluronic acid, a substance that enhances dermalogical collagen to keep skin supple even when applied topically. With some skin creams valuing over 50,000 yen ($588) a bottle, the group of mostly middle age and senior female visitors, literally run to try various products.
One fascinating device the salon features is a skin magnifying machine. Placing the sensor onto your face, the monitor displays a close-up magnifying every pore. I was told that I have a tendency to scrub my face too roughly and that has resulted in tiny abrasions where dirt can accumulate. The group then sits down to enjoy a complimentary bottle of a Yakult drink before going to watch the production line at work.
Although the majority of individual visitors to the factory are women, the Fujisawa factory also hosts many male corporate visitors, even from overseas. It is easy to see what they are here to observe. On display is Japanese production at its best. Extreme efficiency is in place. Each work day is devoted to churning out one of the 30 Beautiens products. On the day of my visit, over 50,000 bottles of Parabio lotion will be bottled and packaged with a rejection rate of less than 30 bottles. Equally impressive is the level of hygiene. To enter the factory floor, workers have to wear protective clothing from a hair cap down to shoe covers and go through an “air shower room.” The factory floor is not only clean, but the metal knobs and devices are polished until they gleam.
In a grapefruit mint scented studio overlooking the main factory floor, visitors are lectured on how the process works. A glass partition separates the bottling section from the packaging part to prevent tiny filaments of paper from entering the bottles. Inside a glass house, machines deftly pump liquid into bottles and caps are twisted on. A robot fondly called “Taro” then lifts four bottles at one time onto the main production line where they eventually cross into the packaging room where “Hanako,” the other robot arm opens up boxes and places six bottles at one time into the boxes before closing the cover. The dexterity of Hanako is impressive.
After the tour, visitors go into the salon again where we are given a choice of Yakult drinks from a vending machine. While we sip, a short lecture on proper skincare is conducted. This part is a new experience for male visitors and extremely popular with female ones.
Using the inside of our wrists instead of our faces, the guide talks us through the various steps of proper facial cleansing. Rather scrubbing my face vigorous with a washcloth, the better alternative is to create enough soap foam so the tiny bubbles ooze into your pores and soaks out the dirt and oil. “What’s important is to use enough cleanser. Most people tend to use too little and the effectiveness is greatly reduced,” explains the guide. After our left wrist is washed, creamed, lotioned and moisturized, even the men in the group remark how clean and supple that wrist is compared to their unwashed one.
The tour comes to an end by filling out a short questionnaire and receiving a little gift bag with travel size bottles of the products and information pamphlets. There is no aggressive sales pitch on the tour. It is clear that the aim is good public relations for not only Yakult’s cosmetics but for the corporate group as a whole. On one Internet site ranking factory tours, the Fujisawa factory was ranked third in the category visitors who want to go again. Indeed, receiving free drinks, free cosmetic samples in a luxurious setting makes for a pleasant day trip.
What is Yakult Beautiens?
1935: The original Yakult drink was manufactured and sold based on a strain of probiotic bacteria discovered by Minoru Shirota while he was a professor at Kyoto University.
1955: Yakult Chemicals was established to market skin lotions and creams from a factory in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture.
1971: Cosmetic production was moved to Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture.
1988: Using biotechnology, a hyaluronic acid essence was developed.
2001: An original probiotic skin lotion was created.
2006: The brand name “Yakult Beautiens” was established.
2007: The Fujisawa factory was renovated to allow regular tours to be held for promotional and marketing purposes.
Yakult Beautiens Tour
(90 minutes in total)
1) Visitors are led to a salon to listen to a short lecture on the special qualities of Yakult Beautiens products.
2) Visitors are free to sample products and to use the skin magnifying machine.
3) Visitors are led to view the factory floor through a glass partition from a viewing studio.
4) Visitors are led back to the studio to sample Yakult beverages.
5) Visitors are taught how to cleanse skin properly using Beautiens products on their wrists.
6) Visitors are given sample cosmetic products.