Ito En

Shibuya-Ku, Japanwww.itoen.co.jp/
Invested through
  • Triodos Future Generations Fund
  • Triodos Impact Strategy Fund - Defensive
  • Triodos Impact Strategy Fund - Balanced
  • Triodos Impact Strategy Fund - Offensive
  • Triodos Impact Strategy Fund - Dynamic
Asset ClassesListed equity
Impact strategyImpact Equities and Bonds
ISIN codeJP3143000002
Industry groupFood, Beverage & Tobacco
Aligned with SDGs
  • Good health and well-being

"ITO EN produces, packages, and distributes a variety of teas, including Japanese green tea, oolong, and black tea in several different forms (leaves, bags, bottles, and cans of prepared drinks), as well as prepared and ground coffees, packaged vegetable and fruit juices, dairy and bottled mineral water. ITO EN is involved in the procurement, production and sales of tea, but it has outsourced selected production activities to trusted parties. Next to its tea leaves and beverages portfolio, the company derives a minor part of its sales in its so-called restaurant business. The latter includes ITO EN's retail outlets including the Tully's coffeeshop chain, selling coffee and tea as well as fresh fruit, vegetable juices and other products catering to the health-conscious crowd. It also operates several Asia-based retail outlets promoting exclusively teas.

ITO EN holds leading shares in the Japanese tea leaves and beverages markets, based on its four core brands Oi Ocha (green tea beverages), Kenko Mineral Mugicha (mineral barley tea), Tully's Coffee, and Ichinichibun no Yasai (vegetable beverages). Oi Ocha claims to be the number one green tea brand, not only in Japan but also globally. Specifically targeting its overseas markets, ITO EN launched the global Matcha green tea brand alongside the Oi Ocha beverages range. Next to expanding its portfolio beyond tea based beverages, ITO EN has also been introducing products with functional claims. ITO EN's major sales channels are supermarkets and convenience stores, but the company has a broad network of vending machines as well. Domestic sales still dominate, although ITO EN intends to further increase its overseas sales, both absolute and relative to the group total, primarily in North America and China.

ITO EN has approx. 8,000 employees with its headquarter located in Tokyo. The founding Honjo family controls 30% of total shares, and several family members are still actively involved in the company's management, including the chairman and president. ITO EN was founded in 1966 as The Frontier Tea Corporation, renamed to ITO EN in 1969."

Investment rationale

"ITO EN has a clear and strong fit with our
Sustainable Food & Agriculture
theme. Sustainability is incorporated in, and well visible across ITO EN's strategy and operations in various ways, specifically in and across:
ITO EN's product portfolio
The company's own(ed) processes
The tea value chain including ITO EN's suppliers
Firstly, to start with sustainability incorporated in its end products:
Green tea (both leaves and related beverages), which account for a large majority of ITO EN's sales, contains a wide variety of natural components which provide real and/or perceived health benefits. The main components include catechin, amino acids (theanine), caffeine, vitamins, saponin, flavanoids, gava and fluoride. The health aspect is not limited to solely ITO EN's tea activities, but applies for the company's overall portfolio, as the ratio of sugar free beverages exceeds 75%, which exceeds the 54% share in the total Japanse non-alcoholic market.
Additionally, ITO EN offers a variety of caffeine-free teas such as barley tea, as well as mineral water and vegetable and fruit-based beverages suitable for all ages, from infants to the elderly. Their vegetable drinks (13.6% sales) are particularly noteworthy, as they contain the nutritional equivalent of 350 grams of vegetables, meeting the daily recommendation of the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to promote healthy living and prevent diseases.
Turning back to green tea; it has been recognized as a healthy beverage for centuries. E.g., studies have demonstrated that theanine helps people relax and improves sleep. Catechin, an antioxidant, is known to provide protection against various lifestyle diseases. Tea's ingredients may also increase the accuracy of cognitive functions and be supportive to reduce body fat.
Secondly, sustainability is also embedded in ITO EN's own processes and environmental policy
, with goals set related to climate change, water resources and packaging. Regarding the latter, and illustrative, the company has targets in place for PET bottles made entirely out of recycled materials. Moreover, circularity is also incorporated in ITO EN's own production and distribution processes, as after brewing nearly 100% of tea leaves are being recycled, mainly into cardboard boxes.
Thirdly and lastly, sustainability is not limited to ITO EN's products & processes, but it is also well established and present across ITO EN's value chain
, as the company demonstrates its commitment to sustainable agriculture & farming, community development, recycling and responsible resource use. Worth mentioning is ITO EN's Tea Producing Region Development Project which was started in 1976. The purposes are not only to ensure a reliable supply of high-quality ingredients for the company's products, but also to help solve various issues characterizing Japan's agricultural sector. The project supports tea farmers with expertise and cultivation technologies including full crop purchase contracts. ITO EN purchases all of the green tea leaves produced by the participating farmers. Moreover, new land is created for growing tea, e.g. by utilizing abandoned farmland. Consequently, the project helps reviving abandoned farmland and rural communities, by solving successor issues regarding ageing farmers and creating jobs. Knowledge acquired from this Tea project is also used for contract farming for the production of vegetables for the company's juices.
Additionally, the company is developing programs to encourage younger individuals to work at plantations and promoting the use of machines to reduce the amount of labour required
ITO EN has captured a leading position in the Japanese domestic market, while its growth prospects going forward should benefit from the increasing popularity for particularly green tea globally. Increasing the share of sales from overseas markets is amongst ITO EN's medium term targets. Moreover, its entire portfolio should further benefit from the trend towards more healthy and natural food and beverages.
Concluding, ITO EN has a clear and strong theme fit with Sustainable Food & Agriculture."