Geek shopping: Tofu Cute
Based in Hampshire and founded in 2010, Tofu Cute has fast become popular – both online and via their numerous stalls at conventions and events – catering for people that like all things kawaii (cute).
Tell us a bit about yourselves and Tofu Cute and what you stand for:
Hi JoJo, thanks for taking the time to interview me today for Renegade Revolution!
My name is Rob and I am one of the managers at Tofu Cute. Tofu Cute has been selling online and attending events for around 3 years now and we supply the largest range of Japanese confectionary outside of Asia. Our aim is to share the philosophy of kawaii – stay young at heart and allow fun items to inject positive energy into your everyday life!
Tofu Cute has become extremely popular! How did the concept of Tofu Cute begin?
Tofu Cute evolved from other businesses. Before Tofu Cute, I worked for a company that sold electronic pets. We sold electronic pets to people that were not able to keep their own animals or just wanted a bit of fun! The pets ranged from electronic plants that didn’t need watering to lifesized dogs and cats. Some of your readers may have heard of Pekoppa, Flip Flap, Aibo, Walkie Bits or FurReal Yume Neko! These were Japanese designed electronic pets that we imported into the UK. We realised that the cost was too high for many customers so wanted to create a brand with a range of products that were still entertaining but at a lower price point. We’re so lucky to have a large customer base now from all over the world and I’m confident that we will continue to grow as our range does!
On average, what are your best-selling products?
As well as Pocky, which is always a firm favourite, our best selling product is the Endless Edamame Bean (http://www.tofucute.com/endless-edamame-popping-soybean~p1046.html). This bean is a fun little stress relieving keychain that gives you the realism of popping edamame beans… endlessly! The middle bean in the pod has a face and there are 12 designs to collect. The bean is a Tofu Cute designed product with the faces having been designed by staff and customers. They only cost £2.99 so I think people are happy to keep them in their pocket to pop when they get bored and we have a lot of customers who collect the full set.
Do you have any personal favourite products?
Don’t tell anyone else at Tofu Cute, but I’ve grown rather fond of Alpacas. We recently became an official retailer of Amuse, the company that make Alpaccasso products (http://www.tofucute.com/search_result.php?keywords=alpaca). I was lucky enough to see a large range of different Alpaccasso products in Japan. They were so cute I thought I was going to scream but I didn’t because it would have been really inappropriate, Japanese business is very formal.
Recently, some of the staff at Tofu Cute came up with the concept of transporting alpacas in vacuum packed bags when travelling to events. When other people aren’t looking, sometimes I let the air in a bit… so that the alpacas don’t get scared.
I put on a hard exterior but we’re going to be stocking an even bigger range of Alpacas soon so I’m a little concerned that my collegues may realise my secret admiration for the Alpacas. In the meantime, let’s keep it hush.
By the way, Alpacas are popular because they spit less than llamas and have far more personality than sheep.
You’ve recently released news of a membership card for Tofu Cute (the Tofu Tomodachi Card) Tell us a little more about it:
The Tofu Tomodachi card is exciting! It’s a new membership card which we’re launching for all our loyal customers that have been shopping with us since the beginning. Now they will be rewarded with tofu points!
It costs just £1 to join the membership scheme and once activated, each pound spent with Tofu Cute the will amount to 2 points. Unlike a lot of membership schemes, the points can be used at anytime to get money off online.
Alternatively, something exciting happens if members decide to stockpile their points! At set intervals, customers can get even more for their points with discounted products or very limited items that aren’t available online. The card launches for the first time at London MCM Expo and will soon be available to buy online. You can read more about it here: http://blog.tofucute.com/2014/05/introducing-tofu-tomodachi-card.html.
Your name is so unique! How did you come up with the name “Tofu Cute”?
The creative manager of Tofu Cute (Zanni) and myself are pescetarian and Tofu is a popular choice with us! Tofu is a food made from soy milk and originated in China, it’s eaten in many places in Asia and I imagine it to be a happy little food. It represents us very well. We wanted a name that people would remember but also made sense to people in the west that weren’t used to the kawaii culture. Most people know what Tofu is (even if they’ve never tried it!)and everyone understands ‘cute.’ The Kanji in our logo actually translates our name to Tofu Kawaii and when pronounced sounds like: ‘DOW-FU-KA-WA-II!’
Do you have any memorable customers?
Oh we have many memorable customers! I’ve actually attended every event that Tofu Cute has been to (around 30) and I feel so privileged to meet so many lovely people. I’ve had a few dealings with Warwick Davis (name drop) and his family at the MCM events. Not that he’s ever actually purchased anything from us but his children like our sweets… does that make him a customer? Also, about a year ago, I got a call from Jonathan Ross to tell me that he really liked our Watapatchi Grape. He introduced himself just as Jonathan on the phone so I didn’t really know who he was until later in the conversation and at first just assumed he was a very enthusiastic customer (he was still eating it at the time). We have many returning customers and I think Tofu Cute attracts the kind of people that don’t take themselves too seriously. Even grown men with tattoos and vest tops seem to soften when they’re carrying a bright pink basket by the handles. There are also a growing number of customers who I’ve seen so many times, I consider them like family.
What’s your weirdest business experience?
When you’re dealing with the kind of product range we have… the level of weird changes.
One weird experience was performing the Tofu Cute snack panel at Japan Expo in Paris. I perform the panel with Kiru, our events co-ordinator and we usually do it at more intimate events like Kitacon and Minamicon. However, at Japan expo we had to perform the panel to an audience of about 250 many of which didn’t understand English. Luckily we had a translator on stage but some of the ‘English’ humor just doesn’t translate. We have a product called Awawawa balls which are super fizzy sour gobstoppers and I asked the audience for volunteers to take part in the ‘two balls in your mouth challenge’ I paused for some kind of reaction which never came because it had to be translated and then once it was translated there was still nothing… I have no idea what the translator actually said. However, they have asked us to perform the panel 3 times this year so it couldn’t have been all bad.
Also, there was this time when I was on a business trip to visit a factory in China and because we got delayed, we got locked out of Hong Kong on the way back. I attempted to sleep on a step but was led to a hotel with a lot of cockroaches. I class these kind of experiences as the dark underside of Kawaii.
Do you prefer selling to your customers online or in person at events?
I’m not so close to customer service online now but I have always preferred selling to customers directly at events. Communication is much easier in person! It’s fun to cater selling techniques to different people as well.
Some inside information: As part of the employment process for Tofu Cute we make a fake event where the interviewees have to stand behind a table, stacked with products and answer questions from fake customers. Questions such as ‘Is everything you sell made of Tofu?’, ‘Can I have a plastic bag for my bag?’ and ‘What is lit-chee ra-moon?’ are all just part of dealing directly with customers.
Are there any favourite conventions or events that you guys like to set up your stall?
There’s a little know event called ‘MCM Comic Con’ in the UK which seems to be doing very well… But seriously, our stand at MCM London is epic now because we have Kawaii Alley to set up. This May is the largest stand that we have anywhere and it’s about 60 square meters to set up. The stand takes around 18 hours to complete and we do pretty much everything ourselves. Sometimes we even have to lay the carpet.
Japan Expo in Paris has over 200,000 people attend and gets hotter than the sun. It’s really interesting to see a whole new range of products and new customers from all over Europe. Bring your own sandwiches though. £8 for an egg and cress means it’s cheaper to just eat tons of Pocky.
Hyper Japan in London has a great range of Japanese products and is always eventful! I recommend this to anyone that wants to have a proper insight into Japanese culture. Don’t miss out on the hot food vendors and also ‘Nice Ice’, they’re sooo good.
However, my favourite events are the smaller ones such as Kitacon, J-Con, Minamicon and Abunai! Here we get to meet up with some of our most loyal customers and we have a lot a fun doing custom events and competitions. The organisers and gophers at these events are the most amazing and hard-working people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. They don’t work for the money but for the pleasure of creating something that people will enjoy. Tofu Cute has a lot of love for these events.
Cosplay: Yes or no?
Oh God yes. For a start, I have complete admiration for anyone that can make their own clothing let alone based on a non-physical character. I have absolutely no skill in that area at all.
Secondly, how amazing would this world be if there were no ties to any kind of clothing regiment in society? If we could all feel perfectly comfortable wearing whatever we wanted? Complete freedom! I’m all for that. Cosplay seems to step in the right direction. It’s one of the reasons I love attending conventions.
What does the future of Tofu Cute hold in store for their customers?
We’re always trying to increase our product ranges and recently added Japanese Kit Kats to our list. We’re still in negotiations at the moment but hope to have more flavours very soon. We’re also starting the process of designing some new Tofu Cute products!
Additionally, we have a very exciting development coming over the next month… I can’t give away too much but I believe if you keep an eye on our Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages you may get some hints very soon.
For the people that have not heard of Tofu Cute before… here’s your chance to get a message out to them!
Hi there, I don’t think we’ve met have we? If you’d like to find out a bit more about Tofu Cute, you can visit our online store at http://www.TofuCute.com. We have a large range of Japanese inspired products and confectionary that can’t be purchased outside of Asia. You can also come and visit us at different events around the UK and Europe. You can usually spot us because we’re bright pink!
Do you have any messages for your customers and loyal followers?
I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone that has ordered from us online or directly at events. Without you, it wouldn’t be possible and your dedication to our brand is amazing. I look forward to meeting you all at events again soon and we can always be contacted directly at email@example.com or by shining a Tofu symbol in the sky at your local police station.
I’d also like to say that I’m very lucky to be able to work with a dedicated team of staff that possess skills that I don’t! We all work very hard and sometimes late into the nights to make sure that Tofu Cute is the best it can be.
Finally, is there anything you would like to ask any or all members of staff here at Renegade Revolution?
Thanks for taking the time to interview me today. Discussing experiences is an important aspect of growth and it’s always good to talk and think about progress. I hope that we will see you all at our stand sometime soon?
I have a question for you; What do you think the weirdest tasty flavour of Pocky would be? Not sure if I can have it made, but maybe I’ll put in a word to Glico for you.
Jojo: Seaweed! I love seaweed! Has that already been done? Or how about chocolate with chilli? That’s pretty goshdarn tasty too! <3
Amy: I haven’t had Pocky in ages! A green tea one would be weird… and slightly tasty.
Heather: Hmmm, for me? Probably a savoury flavour like paprika.
Not sure what was going through Skawt’s mind with his response, but I would definitely like to thank Rob from Tofu Cute for his time. Everyone here at Renegade Revolution is anticipating our next visit to one of their stalls! If any of you are headed to MCM Comic Con (formerly known as MCM Expo) next weekend in London, be sure to look out for their stall (think pink!) and check out all of their cute goodies! If you would like to keep up to date with all of their products, news and even do some shopping, do check out their website and information here:
All images used with permission from Tofu Cute.