These Japanese Beef Croquettes Are So Popular There’s a 43-Year Waiting List

(CNN) — If you order a box of frozen Kobe beef croquettes from Asahiya, a family-owned butcher shop in Takasago city in Japan’s western Hyogo Prefecture, it will take 43 years for your order to be received.

This is not a typo. Forty-three years.

Founded in 1926, Asahiya sold meat products from Hyogo Prefecture, including Kobe beef, for decades before adding beef croquettes in the years after World War II.

But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that these beef and potato croquettes became an Internet sensation, with shoppers now facing ridiculous waits.

CNN Travel spoke to Shigeru Nitta, the third generation of Asahiya owners in 2022. At the time, the wait for kibble was just 30 years.

an unprofitable business idea

The iconic “Extreme Croquettes” are one of four types of Kobe beef croquettes available at Asahiya. Can’t you wait almost four decades? The store’s premiere Kobe beef croquettes currently have a less than rigorous waiting list of four years.

“We started selling our products on the Internet in 1999,” explains Nitta. “At the time, we were offering Extreme Croquets on a trial basis.”

Growing up in Hyogo, Nitta has been accompanying his father to local farms and beef auctions since childhood.

He took over the store from his father in 1994, when he was 30.

After experimenting with e-commerce for a few years, he realized that customers were hesitant to pay big bucks for premium beef online.

Kobe Beef Croquettes

Credit: Asahiya

Then he took a bold decision.

Nitta explains, “We sold Extreme Croquettes at a price of 270 yen (US$1.80) per piece… just the beef in them cost about 400 yen (US$2.70) per piece.”

“We created affordable and delicious kibbles that reflect our store concept as a strategy for customers to enjoy kibbles and then hope they will purchase our Kobe beef after the first taste.”

To limit financial losses initially, Asahiya produced only 200 croquettes per week in his kitchen, next to his store.

“We sell meat raised by people we know. Our store only sells meat produced in Hyogo Prefecture, whether it’s Kobe beef, Kobe pork, or Tajima chicken. The store has been around since before I became the owner. That’s been the style,” says Nita.

In fact, Nitta’s grandfather himself used to go to Sanda, another famous Wagyu beef breeding area in Hyogo, by bicycle with a cart to collect products.

“From that point on, our store had connections with local beef producers, so we didn’t have to bring it in from outside the province,” Nitta says.

Production increases but popularity increases

Extreme Croquettes’ low price belies the quality of its ingredients. These are made fresh every day, without preservatives. Ingredients include three-year-old A5 female Kobe beef and potatoes from a local farm.

Nitta says he has encouraged the farm to use cow manure to grow potatoes. The potato stalks will then serve as food for the cows, creating a cycle.

Over time, its unique concept attracted the attention of locals and the media. When a report about Asahiya kibbles was published in the early 2000s, its popularity skyrocketed.

Nita explains, “We stopped selling them in 2016 because the waiting time had exceeded 14 years. We were planning to stop placing orders, but we received several calls asking us to continue them “

Asahiya resumed accepting orders for these kibbles in 2017, but raised the price.

“At that time, we raised the price to 500 yen (US$3.40) – 540 yen (US$3.65) with consumption tax. But since the export of Kobe beef began, beef prices have doubled, so The fact that we lost doesn’t make any difference on kibble production,” Nitta said.

kobe ​​beef

Streaky Kobe Beef. Credit: Asahiya

Production has also been increased from 200 croquettes per week to 200 per day.

“Extreme croquettes have actually become much more popular than other products,” Nitta says, laughing at his money-losing business idea.

“We’ve heard that we should hire more people and make crochet faster, but I don’t think there are any store owners who lose more money by hiring more employees and producing more… I’m sorry to keep them waiting. I want to make the croquettes quickly and send them out as quickly as possible, but if I do that the shop will go bankrupt.”

Luckily, Nitta says about half of the people who try the croquettes order their Kobe beef, so it’s a good marketing strategy.

a man with a mission

Each box of Extreme Croquettes, which contains five pieces, sells for 2,700 yen ($18.20).

The store periodically sends a newsletter to waiting customers to inform them of the latest shipping estimate.

One week before the delivery date, the store reconfirms the shipment with patient customers.

“Of course, some people have changed their email address. We call those people directly and tell them the delivery date. They can change their address themselves through our website or, when we call them, So they can tell us”, says Nita.

Customers who receive croquettes these days placed their orders about 10 years ago. There are currently 63,000 people “in line” until January 2024.

Reeling from a list of more than 40 years of unprofitable orders can be stressful, especially as the price of Kobe beef and labor continues to rise.

But there is something more important that encourages Nitta to move forward.

Kobe Croquettes

Beef Croquettes come in this sealed packaging. Credit: Asahiya

“When I started selling croquettes online, I got a lot of orders from remote and isolated islands. Most of them had heard about Kobe beef on television but had never tried it because if they Those who wanted to try it had to go to the cities. I realized that there were a lot of people who had never eaten Kobe beef.

“So I continued offering the kibble on a trial basis and if they liked it then got more orders for Kobe beef. That was the reason I started it in the first place, so I didn’t care too much if there was no profit. Was.” He says. Nitta.

One of the most memorable moments was when he received an order from a cancer patient who was about to have surgery while he was waiting for his Extreme Croquettes.

“I heard that our kibbles were what prompted the patient to go under the knife. That’s what surprised me the most,” says Nita.

The patient survived and has since placed several orders.

Nitta received a call from the patient, who, after trying her kibble, told her, “I hope I live a long time without the cancer coming back.”

“I still remember it,” says Nita. “I was touched by the comment.”

By allowing more people to enjoy Kobe beef, they hope the popularity of these croquettes will help boost the local industry.

“I’m very grateful. By becoming famous, I feel like I can help not only my store but the entire industry by getting people interested in Kobe beef who have no interest in it. I want more More people should consume Kobe beef “Kobe beef is not just in my shop,” says Nitta.

What if you don’t want to wait?

Asahiya now has two locations: its original store in Takasago city and a store in Kobe city. Their frozen beef croquettes are shipped only to the national market.

Although Asahiya primarily operates as a butcher shop, Nitta says that travelers can visit their Kobe store, where they sell two types of grab-and-go snacks called “Tor Road” and “Kitanozaka. ” Called Crocketts, which are named after nearby streets.

“Kitanozaka” use lean meat and cost 360 yen (US$2.40) each. “Tor Road” uses small tenderloin and bacon, and is priced at 460 yen ($3.10).


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