TOKYO – Japanese personal care group Unicharm will double its mask exports by 2023 to meet Asian demand for functional products, especially those bearing the “Made in Japan” label.

The company will increase its exports to Asian markets such as Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. The products will also be sold in high income Saudi Arabia. Unicharm will use the sales channels that already exist for diapers.

The company will sell Cho-Kaiteki and Cho-Rittai brand masks. The company produced 1.3 billion units of the two combined products last year. About 10% were sold overseas, with most being made in Japan.

Cho-Kaiteki uses silk blends in the ear straps to reduce discomfort and the masks prevent virus droplets at a high rate. Cho-Rittai is shaped so that the mask does not stick to the mouth and uses a breathable filter. These features will help Unicharm compete with Chinese-made masks that are popular in overseas markets.

The packaging will feature larger logos than the one seen in Japanese stores. The products will take advantage of the brand strength accumulated by Unicharm diapers. Depending on the product, the packaging will feature the Japanese flag with a “Made in Japan” mark.

Unicharm’s masks sell for five times the average price in other Asian markets. The company will primarily target middle to high income customers in urban areas.

“There is a great demand for wearing high quality masks, even if they are expensive,” according to a representative of the company.

Unicharm generated 727.5 billion yen ($ 6.6 billion) in sales last year, 60% of which came from overseas. The company operates factories in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and India, among others. Factories manufacture products that match local price ranges.

In Indonesia and Thailand, Unicharm holds the top spot in baby diapers, adult incontinence products and feminine hygiene products.

Unicharm has sought to market its masks abroad as a solution to air pollution. Now consumers have clung to masks as a daily health necessity due to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting last year, Unicharm prioritized mask supplies for Japan in the face of tight supplies. Now that the problem has improved, the company will move into large-scale exports.

Last year, Unicharm ran its factories around the clock to meet booming domestic demand while installing new equipment. The additional capacity will be reused for exports. If sales are strong, Unicharm will consider expanding its national lines or starting local production.

Unicharm seeks to increase its sales to 1.4 trillion yen by 2030, which would represent an increase of 90% compared to the result of last year. Overseas markets would be responsible for 70% of turnover.

Unicharm has already developed local production and sales of consumer goods by assuming that demand for diapers increases once a market’s per capita income exceeds $ 3,000.

But Unicharm had to face fierce competition in China due to the advanced technical capabilities of its local competitors. The company ultimately recorded a significant impairment loss in 2019.

This time, the company will present high added value products that correspond to the increasing income levels of the various Asian markets. Unicharm will increase its shares and achieve its sales target.

The pandemic has fueled demand for masks. The global market for a product category including masks tripled in 2020, according to Euromonitor. The market quintupled in Southeast Asia that year.

Throughout this increase in demand, China has gained dominance. Global mask exports quintupled last year to $ 72.6 billion, according to the Japan Foreign Trade Organization. China’s exports grew nine-fold that year, and its share of the world total rose from 39 percent to 74 percent.

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