Behind the Scenes with Freedom Japanese Market

Behind the Scenes with Freedom Japanese Market

Every once in a while we have a chance to get the inside scoop on some of our favorite subscription boxes. This month we are chatting with Freedom Japanese Market to find out how it all started! We hope you enjoy getting a chance to learn a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes!

Freedom Japanese Market ships hand selected Japanese snacks and candy straight from Japan to your home or office — Free Shipping Worldwide! Each box contains an English content list and a handmade, seasonal origami.

Sanae, Kevin, Juliette & Ken Havens

Who are the faces behind Freedom Japanese Market?

Kenneth Havens is the head honcho (Honcho is actually a Japanese word!) at Freedom. Ken has lived in Japan for almost 20 years and has tried pretty much every Japanese snack available.  Freedom Japanese Market was created to help share some the the best Japanese snacks with the rest of the world. Ken is in charge of packing the monthly subscription boxes so that not even a single square centimeter of empty space is left in those bad boys — Finally, Ken’s mad Tetris skills are paying off!

As you know each and every subscription box comes packed with a wide variety of snacks and candy.  Sanae Havens is in charge of making sure that each box contains just the right mix of sweet and savory snacks.  She also loves getting emails from people who have tried other snack services and are shocked that our boxes contain no empty space or packing materials to fill extra space.  Making sure that we have just the right snacks, with the right mix of flavors, in just the right size is a full time job that she loves.

Juliet and Kevin Havens also have a big influence over which snacks make the cut and which snacks are left to gather dust in our suppliers’ offices. While these twin kindergartners are young, they are our most valuable and decorated taste testers – after they finish their dinner, of course. Don’t let their tender age fool you; they are tough critics!

When did you start Freedom Japanese Market?

My wife and I started Freedom as a way to help pay for our children’s future education back in 2014.  We originally wanted to make an online store, but discovered that most of our customers wanted us to create a “Care Package” that included some of the most fun, delicious and crazy snacks available from Japan.

Why did you start Freedom Japanese Market?

I have lived in Japan since 1998 — wow, that looks like a long time when I see it on the computer screen — and several of my fellow expats who had returned to their home countries started writing to me complaining that their favorite Japanese snacks weren’t available in their local asian stores.  If they were available, most of the snacks were dangerously close to their best-by dates, or were bootleg snacks (Note: The Made-for-foreign-consumption “Japanese” snacks that are written in English are not made or sold in Japan).  We started sending some of our friends care packages with all the limited edition snacks they couldn’t find locally.  This is where we got the idea for a monthly care package from Japan filled real Japanese snacks that our friends loved.

What makes Freedom Japanese Market different from other similar subscription boxes?

I think anyone reading this would justifiably have quite a bit of skepticism about why I think my company stands out from other subscription boxes, so let me just relay some of the most common feedback we receive from people who have quit other subscription services and joined ours:

  1. Great Value: Many of our new customers are surprised when they see how many snacks we fit into our box.  We don’t believe in shipping a box that is half full of packing material.  We are based in Japan so we are able to purchase several different snacks each month so we can find just the right mix of goodies that fit perfectly into each box.  Providing the best value in our market is very important to us and our customers have told us that they really appreciate that fact.
  2. Experience with Japanese Snacks:  I wanted to give you the combined number of years my wife and I have lived in Japan so you would have an idea of how much Japanese snack experience we have, but some simple math could lead you to my wife’s age, so she has put the Kibosh on that idea :-).  I will just tell you that my wife and I (we are people in charge of curating the our boxes) have far more experience with Japanese snacks than anyone else in the business.  We know what regular Japanese families like, and will never send our customers something that would collect dust in grandma’s rice cracker bowl.  We also test each of the snacks so our subscribers get a good mix of different flavors and experiences.
  3. Fresh Snacks Shipped From Japan: A couple of years ago we were contacted by an American import company that did not realize that we were based in Japan.  They told us that they would be happy to send us highly discounted Japanese snacks that had not sold well in the American market and were reaching their expiration dates.  Our company is based in Japan so we have a wonderful opportunity to buy all of our snacks directly from suppliers.  We ship our boxes out right after packing them so our customers’ snacks arrive fresh.
  4. Family run business: We started this business as a family project, and all of us continue to work in it every day.  We believe that little things like our culture corner on our English content sheet and our seasonal, hand-made origami really make our subscription service more than just a box of snacks. We love Japanese culture and food, and work very hard to share that with the rest of the world through our boxes.

What is the process for choosing the items for Freedom Japanese Market?

This in an ongoing process that really never stops for us — we get to try lots of snack, so we are not complaining!  Even while we are packing the current month’s box, both me and my wife bring back potential snacks for the next month’s curation.  Japanese snack companies are constantly introducing seasonal snacks that are only available in Japan for a short period of time.  After we narrow down our selection to the top 20 or 30 snacks, we contact our supplier to find out which ones will be available to purchase when we need them — we always have the snacks delivered from the makers so we know that they were not sitting in storage.  When we have that list of snacks we start playing Tetris with a couple of boxes and a table full of candidates.  Since my wife and I both have very strong opinions about this matter, this also gives us a fantastic opportunity to test our marriage :-).  Our goal is to find the perfect balance of sweet, savory, fun, exotic and highly requested snacks that also fit into the box just right and fall within our weight restrictions.  We often spend hours debating whether or not to include an oversized snack in the current month’s box, or risk it going out of production in the future.  This is all a LOT of work, but is also something that we enjoy and know that our customers appreciate.

What is your favorite Japanese Snack and why?  

Sanae loves Shittori chocolate crips and other Japanese chocolate products because we have not been able to find anything like them in other countries.  Both Juliet and Kevin love DIY kits and will often be found around our kitchen table making one on a Saturday night.  Juliet is also partial to roulette gum which contains two sweet gumballs and one that is VERY sour.  She usually licks them all and stuffs the sour one in my mouth when I am working on the computer.  Kevin loves dried or pickled squid jerky and will choose a bag of tentacles over a chocolate bar any day. Personally,  I am a huge fan of little dried fish and peanuts (I am munching on a bag as I write this).  This is one of those snacks that is scary at first, but becomes really addictive after you eat a couple bags.

What is a good snack for a newbie to start with?

One of the wonderful things about Japanese snacks is that they often have pictures of the fruit, vegetable or meat that the snack tastes like on the package (roasted corn flavor has a picture of roasted corn on the cob etc.).  This way it is much easier for beginners to stick with the flavors they know that they will enjoy.  Personally, I would recommend DIY candy kits and Japanese chocolate for people with a sweet tooth, corn based crisps for people who like savory snacks, and dried fish, octopus and squid for the adventurous.

What is the biggest concern people have about purchasing a Japanese snack box subscription?

The three main concerns we hear from people contemplating whether or not they should purchase a snack box are:

  • I don’t know if I can eat all of the snacks included.

This is a very fair concern, and something we take seriously.  Regarding allergies, we mark all snacks that have nuts and dairy in the content sheet we include in every box.  We also mention when a snack includes seafood products.  All gummy products are also clearly marked for our customers who need to keep their diet halal. We also realize that not everyone is into trying something out of their comfort zone, so we try to only include one or two “challenge” snacks in each box.

  • What if Japanese snacks are not my thing?

We totally get that Japanese snacks might not be everyone’s cup of green tea.  This is why we offer single boxes so people can try our snacks out for a month before they sign up for our service.  Also, we do our best to make it easy for people to cancel their subscription: we send a message a few days before subscription payments are collected, all subscribers have a customer portal they can log into at any time to cancel a subscription and we do not charge any cancelation fees.

  • How much is this really going to cost me?

This is unfortunately a question we get from time to time.  There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a checkout page only to find that the special deal you got doesn’t include shipping if you live outside the U.S..  We make our prices very clear and include everything up front.  This may hurt us when people compare apples and oranges, but it seems like the right thing to do for our business and helps us sleep better at night.

We hope you enjoyed our behind the scenes look at Freedom Japanese Market. This is our favourite Q&A to date, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Want to test out Freedom Japanese Market for yourself? – CLICK HERE





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