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Firm pioneers 'character drink' segment

Smartto has launched its new canned fruit juice with two flavours, TOYa Punch and TOYa Spirit. The drink is sold only at 7-Eleven convenience stores countrywide.

Smartto has launched its new canned fruit juice with two flavours, TOYa Punch and TOYa Spirit. The drink is sold only at 7-Eleven convenience stores countrywide.

Fond memorIes and a childhood passion for superheroes, plus a long line-up of ardent admirers in Japan waiting to buy canned drinks featuring their icons, have inspired a group of seven Thai executives from top companies to launch TOYa canned fruit juice.

With more than 20 years of experience in fields ranging from sales and distribution to advertising and creative design, the group decided to set up Smartto Co late last year and launched TOYa as its first product last month. Five of the seven partners still hold permanent jobs.

"It's challenging. None of us had worked in a beverage-related firm. But that was not a problem because we knew well how to distribute goods to consumers.

"We just wanted to start up our own business to make our dreams [of becoming entrepreneurs] come true," said Kanda Pitakchokchai, who quit her job at a telecommunications company to become general manager of Smartto.

TOYa is one of the first few entries in the new "character" drinks segment in Thailand, and the first Masked Rider canned fruit juice in Thailand.

Although the character drink was new to the beverage market, the company thought it was a challenge.

These days, people want to be unique and express their own identity, so the company's idea was to create a drink that represents the identity of consumers.

"We blended the character of Masked Rider with the character of consumers who want to drink a juice that represents them. When they drink TOYa they will feel like 'yes this is exactly my drink'," she said.

The superhero of Japanese television series was chosen as its first product line because it is one of the most popular characters among Thai fans.

"So the Masked Rider canned fruit juice was created for their nostalgia for their old friends," she said.

The company also conducted market research and found that there are about 600,000 registered fans of the superhero here.

The target customer groups are 30 years old and up, who are intimately familiar with the Masked Rider, children aged five to 10, and collectors of the characters.

The company acquired the licence rights to nine Masked Rider characters from Japan via TIGA Co. But in its first series of drinks, only seven characters from V1 to Masked Rider X will be printed on the can.

For collectors, the drink may easily fulfil their desires as the gestures of all nine Masked Riders will be redesigned every two months as part of the contract with the product's only retail channel, 7-Eleven.

"Having a variety of gestures of the characters is our strength and uniqueness because it means our product is fresh, dynamic and different. None of the drinks in the market change their designs more often than us. This will also help boost sales," Kanda said.

Creating a new design in a short period is quite a difficult task, but a partner, who is a well-known creative director at a leading advertising agency, can get things done quickly.

They have to send the designs to the rights owner in Japan for approval to make sure that the image of the Japanese legend will not be damaged.

Smartto invested about Bt20 million in the first phase and plans to spend Bt30 million more this quarter. It aims to sell up to 18 million cans in the first year after the launch last month.

In the first three weeks, the beverage has received a good response. The company also plans to bring out new characters to strengthen the character-drink segment.

In the future, if the drink becomes popular and successful here, the company will expand to neighbouring countries, Kanda said.


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