Healthcare-branding: World Diabetes Day

The Tokyo Tower was lit up in blue on November 14, 2010. This was to commemorate World Diabetes Day, for which the global symbol is a blue circle.

Diabetes, properly called “diabetes mellitus,” is a group of metabolic diseases that cause a person to have high blood sugar, either because their body does not produce enough insulin, or because their cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare, there are four types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes:
The destruction of the pancreatic β-cells, which make insulin, causes the amount of insulin in the body to be depleted. This type of diabetes, which usually begins in childhood, is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes:
There are two kinds of Type 2 diabetes. In one, the body produces a small amount of insulin; in the second, insulin deficiency is caused by a lack of response to insulin in the liver and muscle cells. Type 2 diabetes is often related to lifestyle, such as diet (eating habits) and lack of exercise. About 95% of diabetes cases in Japan are of this type.

Diabetes caused by disease or genetic abnormalities
Infections and diseases of the liver and pancreas, reactions to medication, and genetic abnormalities can also cause diabetes.

Gestational diabetes
In gestational diabetes, pregnant women who have never had diabetes before develop high levels of blood glucose during pregnancy. This may be a precursor to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is on the rise globally. Five to six percent of the world’s adult population—246 million people—face diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, it may be as high as 380 million by 2025. Increases are seen mostly in emerging economies in regions such as Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America. These areas are expecting the number of diabetes patients to double in the next 15 years.

Emerging economies are growing very fast compared to Japan’s own growth. Furthermore, Japan is an island nation, so its economic development is easy to track. Still, no matter how economic growth occurs, living in the same mass-consumption society will bring up common issues—including diabetes caused by changes in people’s lifestyles.

As Japan’s society is aging and its birthrate falling, people are becoming more sensitive and concerned about their own health. In response, many Japanese companies are producing “healthcare” related products. Through their advertisements and PR, they are also offering ideas about ways to combat or prevent diabetes. These include promotion of beverages such as low-malt beer and low-carbohydrate or carbohydrate-free sparkling beverages that taste like beer, and reducing the absorption of sugar with a meal by consuming fiber in the form of unique vegetable juices or recipes from the makers of brand-name seasonings. Companies have also been promoting exercise trends such as walking or jogging, and supplements and drinks that slow the absorption of sugar. They are sure to come up with even more ideas, since healthcare businesses and the healthcare market are growing more every year.

Japan, as an economically developed country, should take the lead in helping regions that are expecting the number of diabetes patients to double over the next 15 years. The country should go beyond the contributions of any individual company or academic study, and seriously consider how to take action for the future health of all of Asia.

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Eco-branding: The “Econvenience” store in US

If you asked the average American consumer to describe a convenience store, most would say it’s a place that sells junk food, lottery tickets and cigarettes. Ubiquitous in many other areas of the world, convenience stores are less common in the US. They also carry fewer goods, and tend to have a negative image, being associated with negative images such as frequent burglaries, unhealthy food and beverages, and dirty interiors. However, a new and interesting niche with a completely different image has appeared: eco-friendly convenience stores, branded “Econvenience stores,” have started opening across the nation and are becoming a new green/eco-trend.  

Convenience stores in the US

Convenience stores have been in the US since 1927, when 7-Eleven began in Texas. Today there are a variety of stores across the country ranging from major chains (am/pm, 7-Eleven) to gas station mini-marts and local mom-and-pop stores. In the US, convenience stores are generally located in urban areas or along major roads and highways, making them easily accessible to shoppers who usually visit via car. Many convenience stores are connected to gas stations. Convenience stores typically offer snacks and processed foods (candy, potato chips, soda, etc.), lottery tickets, newspapers and magazines, and tobacco products. Depending on the location, they may also sell some groceries (including liquor and alcohol, depending on the state) or household goods. Prices, however, tend to be higher, and selections more limited compared to larger retailers. Although some convenience stores offer pre-packaged or hot food items, these tend to be unhealthy options such as pizza, burritos, hot dogs, and high-fat sandwiches. In response to an increasing demand for healthier items, many convenience stores have begun offering “healthier” options such as lower-calorie sandwiches, fresh salads and fresh fruit.  

The “Econvenience store”

Vastly different from the typical American convenience store, “econvenience stores” sell natural and organic food and beverages, and focus not only on price and convenience, but also on health, safety, taste, and the environment. Note: In the US, demand for eco-friendly food (including organically grown, vegan-friendly, gluten-free, and local offerings) has skyrocketed, and such products are readily available in most major supermarkets. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on these items, and today there are major natural-food supermarkets that carry only organic and natural products. One of these companies, Whole Foods Market (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com), is one of the world’s largest retailers of organic and natural food, with more than 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom. Whole Foods carries only products that are minimally processed and that are free of hydrogenated fats, artificial colors, sweeteners, flavors and preservatives. Despite its higher prices, Whole Foods has become a popular and trendy place to shop, and its success has helped to make organic products more easily attainable and commonplace in American society. One could argue that it has also played a role in increasing awareness of eco-friendly products and practices (recycling, eco-bags, etc.). As a “hybrid” of the traditional convenience store (am/pm or 7-Eleven) and the large organic grocery store (Whole Foods), the econvenience store offers healthy and natural options together with the handiness of a convenience store (as well as the community feel of a local store). While the majority of American consumers still shop at local chain supermarkets and base their purchasing decisions on price, there are more and more shoppers who are concerned about where their food comes from and are willing to pay a little more, and drive a littler farther, to get the products.   

The following are two examples of econvenience stores in the US:

1. Locali (http://www.localiyours.com)

One example of an “eco-friendly” or “econvenience” store is Locali Conscious Convenience, located in Hollywood, California. Locali, meaning “community” in Italian, calls itself “Your sustainable neighborhood market.” At first glance, Locali appears to be just a small, nondescript grocery store in a strip mall. However, upon entering the store you find a clean and hip market. The 7-Eleven-style fluorescent lights and shelves of processed foods are nowhere to be found–instead you see wood shelves (made from reclaimed wood) full of interesting local, organic goods. The interior also features energy-efficient appliances and lighting fixtures. According to the company’s website, Locali “aims to serve its community by providing eco-friendly products and healthy food and beverages from sustainable growers, artisans and suppliers.” While the shop caters to customers stopping by for to-go drinks or a bite to eat, there are plenty of unique organic and local products for sale. You can find everything from frozen organic food to natural teas and juices, local/sustainably produced wines, and natural snacks. Besides food and beverages, Locali also sells eco-friendly household and everyday items, including light bulbs, feminine products, household cleaners, hand sanitizer, and even lip balm. In addition, Locali offers a variety of natural and organic deli sandwiches; salads; beverages featuring reverse-osmosis water; antibiotic-, hormone-, gluten-, and casein-free meats; and locally made fresh, natural breads. All deli packaging and utensils are biodegradable and compostable. The shop encourages customers to bring their own reusable bottles and containers for both drinks and food. Another important aspect of the econvenience store is its involvement with the community. Locali does this by not only showcasing local products, but also by promoting local events and giving back to the community.

2. Green Spot (http://www.greenspotmarket.com)

The Green Spot Market & Fuels, another eco-friendly convenience store, opened for business in 2008 in Dallas, Texas, after the owners realized that many local consumers wanted to be more environmentally conscious and eat more healthily. Unlike a typical gas station and mini-mart, Green Spot doesn’t sell Snickers bars or bags of Doritos. Green Spot is a “Healthy Convenience” store where customers can find guilt-free natural snacks and drinks, and can also fill their cars with biodiesel fuel. The store specializes in healthy, organic, and wholesome products such as natural sodas, organic snacks, fresh flowers, gourmet sandwiches, organic/fair trade coffees, natural teas, and even organic diapers. You can still find Coca-Cola; however, it’s from Mexico, where it’s still made from real sugar. As at most organic grocery stores in the US, there are also numerous items for vegans. This convenience store also serves as a café offering healthy, organic meals made from only natural ingredients. In addition, Green Spot uses eco-friendly products, including cups and straws made from corn, utensils that are 100% biodegradable, and plates and bowls made from sugar cane. Even the wallpaper is made from used paper grocery bags. Green Spot is not just a natural market, but also a “green” gas station. Customers can purchase biodiesel-blended fuels (made from corn oil, soy oil, etc.) in two grades, 5 percent and 100 percent. Compared to regular fuel, biodiesel fuel is cleaner-burning and adds no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The biodiesel is also available for onsite fueling at events and festivals, including concerts. Green Spot hopes to educate consumers on both healthy eating options and being environmentally responsible.

Eco-friendly convenience stores are still relatively new and rare in the US. Those that do exist are quite small in size and usually frequented by a niche group of shoppers. However, the increasing popularity and demand for organic and health foods, as well as increasing awareness of the environment (and living in an eco-friendly way) are advantages for these stores. Other recently popular trends in the US such as environmentally friendly building practices; green businesses; products that are organic, natural, /safe, and/or clean; returning to the local community; and the ever-increasing need for convenience and saving time, are all areas that fit well with the concept of the econvenience store. As more and more consumers learn about these stores and the benefits they bring to not only individuals, but also communities, we are likely to see many more of them around the country.

B2B companies in emerging economies: SIEMENS in India

Like China, India is an emerging powerhouse that is expected to become the world’s third-largest economy within the next 20 years. The country’s rising consumption, huge and relatively young population, and problems in energy and healthcare present huge opportunities for foreign corporations.

Siemens India is a network of 22 companies, 18 manufacturing plants and over 500 channel partners across the country. The company also employs over 17,000 people throughout India. Siemens has been active in the Indian market for over 50 years, with its first connection dating back to 1867, when Mr. Siemens supervised the laying of the first telegraphic line between London and Calcutta. The company’s first Indian office was established in 1922 and became a corporation in 1957. As of September 2009, Indian revenues totaled €1.7 billion. Recent sales in India grew nearly 23 percent.

In the past year, Siemens has renewed its plan to focus on the Indian market over the next three years. With its commitment to India, Siemens will invest €1 billion into the market, specifically focusing on the green energy market and on developing a variety of products for India, including solar powered X-ray machines, fetal heart monitors, steam turbines and road traffic management systems.  The company hopes to increase sales tenfold over the next decade to make €1 billion in sales per year. It also plans to increase its Indian workforce by 50%.

To achieve this ambitious goal, Siemens plans to utilize a “low-cost, high-quality strategy,” or frugal engineering, focusing on simple, unsophisticated products. It aims to take advantage of the country’s infrastructure needs and develop products specifically for the Indian market.

Some examples of Siemens projects in India include:

-Investing in India’s renewable energies. Siemens plans to invest $346 million over the next three years, one-third of which will be used to help develop wind turbine technology and solar power.

-Setting up six manufacturing hubs in India. These facilities will “design, develop, produce and sell products such as signaling systems and steam turbines.”

As in China, Siemens is focusing on local R&D, design, and manufacturing in India. Although there is some debate regarding the level of skill and precision of local engineers and manufacturers, “Indovation” (innovations created by Indians) is certainly a key to the future. Some “Indovations” include a battery-powered, super-low-cost refrigerator that resists power cuts; an ATM for rural areas; and a flour mill powered by a scooter. If Siemens can harness this creativity and grasp the needs of this emerging economy, its optimistic projections will be realized.