Several months ago we reported on the introduction of what could be called “ita-rice” – bags of rice decorated with a moe illustration by well-known female eroge artist 西又葵 / Aoi Nishimata (Shuffle!, Final Approach, etc.)
This unique approach to selling rice has since turned into a huge marketing coup for the small town of Ugomachi (Akita Prefecture), with reportedly 2 entire years’ worth of sales of rice being sold in only 1 month.
Sales of the ita-rice began in September 2008, after Nishimata was commissioned to make an illustration to grace packages of the regional variety of rice, Akitakomachi.
The result was this image of a moe, rice-clutching woman in a kimono:
Since the innovative marketing plan was begun, visits to the JA-Ugo (the distribution center for the local rice farmers) website have grown from an average of 5 hits a day to over 5,000 daily visits.
Sales of the rice, which is mostly done through mail order, reached over 2,500 individual orders in the first month of sale, totaling 30 tons worth of the 5kg and 10kg packages.
The primary buyers of the rice are reported as being men in their 20s and 30s, with appreciative comments such as “This made me buy my first rice cooker!” being e-mailed to JA-Ugo.
The bizarre idea was reportedly hatched in 2007, when a 23-year old, self professed otaku visited his hometown of Ugomachi. Speaking to a branch manager of a local bank (an acquaintance of his father), he suggested, “Why don’t you use a bishoujo illustration?”
The popularity of the Ugomachi ita-rice seems to not have gone unnoticed, as similar marketing schemes have surfaced.
Aoi Nishimata has also been hired to illustrate packages of strawberries, shown below:
The box, captioned “Ugoya Ichigo-chan”, contains around 15 – 20 strawberries and sells for just under ¥1,900. Sales of the strawberries have also been quite successful.
In what could be considered a natural (for otaku) progression of this trend, a doujin circle has announced plans to sell packages of rice illustrated with a character from the Touhou Project doujin game series at a Touhou-only event in 2009. I believe the appropriate name for this would be “doujinshi rice.”
This is certainly not the first time otaku marketing power has had such a large impact on an otherwise unrelated market, as the famous stories of Lucky Star pilgrims flocking to the real-life Washinomiya Shrine (Kagami and Tsukasa’s family temple) to pay homage to the Lucky Star girls have shown.
It will indeed be interesting to see what effect the success of ita-food will have in the future, and what other sort of goods can receive the “ita” treatment, besides the obvious example of cars.