This spring, Yo Kai Express Ramen vending machines have appeared at Tokyo Station, Haneda Airport and Shibaura parking lot. In its early days in Japan, the company worked with Ippudo to sell bowls of noodles from the hugely popular ramen chain in its automated mini-restaurants.
And sell noodles they made. According to Yo-Kai CEO Andy Lin, in the first week, the machine at Tokyo Station sold around 100 bowls of ramen per day. This high demand apparently impressed Ippudo enough to not only greenlight more Yo-Kai machines dispensing their ramen in the near future, but also to invest in the business.
News of the expanded relationship was shared during a press conference and stage session at SKS Japan on Friday in Tokyo. Along with the news of Ippudo’s investment (through its parent company Chikaranomoto Holdings), Yo-Kai also announced that Japan Tobacco (JT) will participate in the funding round. JT owns a major processed food company and Yo-Kai will start selling the company’s products TableMark udon noodles thanks to its vending machines. The total capital invested by the two companies through the Series A round has not been disclosed.
According to Yo-Kai CEO Andy Lin, both companies see Yo-Kai as a way to connect to new customers in places they might not have reached otherwise.
“We are their extension,” Lin said. “They don’t need to spend the capital. We are their micro-store.
National Yo-Kai Manager in Japan, Keiji Tsuchiya, told me that CPG brands like the idea of using Yo-Kai to test new food concepts. He said that while established food companies with well-known brands can be slow to launch a new product through traditional channels, they can test new products much faster and easier with Yo-Kai. Some, Tsuchiya said, are even launching a “virtual” brand concept on Yo-Kai to see how consumers react.
“For a Japanese food company, selling products with its own brand is a long process,” Tsuchiya said. “They have to get board approval to start something. It takes one to two years. But with a virtual brand, it’s much easier.
According to Lin, Yo-Kai plans to expand its vending machine footprint in Japan from the current total of three to ten in the near future. They also plan to continue expanding in the US and are talking with other big brands in places like Korea to enter their market.