A Japanese Candy Tasted Like Nothing. Why Do People Miss It?

by Pelican Press
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A flavorless candy appeared briefly in Japanese convenience stores and may never be sold again. We consider this news.

It had no taste by design. Even its name, Flavorless (?) Candy — yes, with a question mark — suggested more of an absence than a presence. But people in Japan are still talking about it, and in some cases missing it. That has given the product a sort of mystical allure.

The candy was manufactured by Kanro, one of Japan’s major candy companies, and test marketed in some stores last fall by Lawson, a convenience store chain. It appeared again for a few weeks this summer in most of the company’s 14,600 stores.

Seven pieces cost the equivalent of $1.31, including tax. They came in a simple silver package emblazoned with a bird-shaped character.

The candy was developed for people who wanted to moisten mouths that had gone dry from all-day mask wearing but without a sugar rush, said Osamu Oouchi, 42, a member of Lawson’s product development team.

Public mask wearing became ubiquitous in Japan during the coronavirus pandemic, even though it was not legally required. When the government guidelines eased in May, many people stopped masking. But Lawson said that it rereleased Flavorless (?) Candy anyway in July because it had performed exceptionally well in a customer vote on the company’s top products.

“It became a conversation topic,” Mr. Oouchi said, adding that the candy was like a “marble in your mouth that gradually melts and disappears.”

This summer, social media users in Japan have been reflecting on what the “taste of nothingness” tastes like, if anything. One likened the mouth feel to “ice that is not cold.”

In a telephone interview, Kanako Kinoshita, 46, described how eating the candy had spurred a kind of metaphysical self-reflection.

“I asked myself: Why do you pay for this product?” said Ms. Kinoshita, who runs a vegetable pancake restaurant in Hiroshima and works as an administrator at a radio station. “The answer is maybe to put myself into a state of ‘nothingness.’”

The candy was unconventional in the sense that it “broke a preconception that candies taste sweet,” said Hisahiro Kawabe, the top editor at a confectionary industry publication in Tokyo.

Mr. Kawabe said Kanro had previously pushed the boundaries of candy with other products, including one whose primary ingredient was soy sauce, and that Flavorless (?) Candy underscored the challenges for an industry where sales have been flat in recent years.

“Young people don’t want to keep food in their mouths for a long time: They’d rather chew gummies, tablets or mints,” he said. “So companies are trying to come up with ideas to attract young consumers.”

Lawson’s market research indicates that the candy was especially popular with teenagers, women in their 20s and pregnant women suffering from morning sickness, said Mr. Oouchi, the product developer.

In Japan, convenience stores are often held up as national symbols of efficiency and customer service. That reputation is partly a function of stores’ enormous offerings and rapid pace of product turnover. A new candy product will typically be on shelves for only three or four weeks — a pace that reflects a ceaseless quest for novelty.

Ken Mochimaru, a spokesman for Lawson, said that reviving and redistributing Flavorless (?) Candy would create scheduling conflicts. But he added that he hoped customers who missed it would find satisfaction in other products.

At a Lawson convenience store in Tokyo the other day, there were lots of candy flavors to choose from, including apple, mixed fruit, peach and soda, and so on. But there was one overarching similarity: They all tasted like something.



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