Truly good sushi demands a premium. Not just in price, which is a given, but in skilled hands to create, in palette to appreciate, and especially in time required to source. Unfortunately, not being amid the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market means that those in Singapore looking for high-quality sushi are at a loss.
This is the problem that Zairyo is making serious inroads with. How do Singaporean customers, the discerning and knowledgeable about Japanese products, from the amateur home-cooks to the classically-trained, get the goods they really need?
With Zairyo, there are no knock-offs or imitation products.
Zairyo is the preeminent importer of fresh Japanese goods. Emphasis on “fresh”. Beyond the lowered costs for being an online shop – having lower overheads and rental costs, Zairyo’s fresh produce are air-flown. Within a day, their products come into Singapore direct from their suppliers in that same Tsukiji fish market. Zairyo co-founder Amanda Tan says, “we don’t keep stock of stuff, especially perishable items, because with four shipments a week, it’s pointless for us to keep stock.”
“It also means we are very direct with customers,” Amanda says. With cheap sashimi and seafood, she says, the amount you save – perhaps 5 to 10 dollars – customers often have no idea where it comes from.
“That money you save, eventually you will spend it later, on doctors if the products you consumed were not of quality,” Amanda adds. She says, “we try to educate as well, how to spot freshness, because comparing with supermarkets, we don’t pay exorbitant rent and our prices will always be better because of that – it also means the products haven’t been sitting out there waiting for you to buy it.”
Zairyo’s best-selling product is definitely their Uni (‘sea urchin’ in English). A critical understanding of what makes Uni good quality is key. “It cannot look too watery, the texture and shape have to be firm,” Amanda says.
Regardless of price or shortage, Zairyo’s choice is only Japanese Uni. Breeds from Mexico, Canada and Russia are possible alternatives, but does not suffice for Zairyo and their customer’s choice tastes. Even then, their Uni has to pass muster at Tsukiji’s Uni auction. This auction, Amanda says, is more exclusive than the lauded tuna auction. That’s because only approved Uni vendors are allowed to take part – vendors who often only sell Uni and nothing else.
Zairyo caters for a special individual – people like themselves: home-cooks. Of varying skill levels, from the average do-it-yourself amateur to the frequent home party chef, “people who really, really know their stuff, maybe even pass off as restaurant quality food,” Amanda says. This is also how Zairyo value-adds to their customer experience. Amanda says, “that’s where we come in, we guide them, talk to them, what this is used for what and what, we are all home-cooks ourselves.”
Amanda says Zairyo's entrance came about because she "just wanted to impart the knowledge about Japanese products." Her family business having already been in Japanese food imports, she was well-aware of products actually from Japan, and those merely passing themselves off as that. She says, "its not a really misrepresentation but a product may have Japanese wording on the packaging, and people won’t doubt it." Thus, situations such as that became more about overpaying for things Amanda says are not worth the prices they were commanding. "It stems from insufficient knowledge," she says.
Back to the Uni - as Zairyo's herald product, this 'knowledge' means Amanda gives her customers the peace of mind not just knowing where their products come from, but also the grand tour. "People don’t know where it’s from and don’t know there are
many different types, we wanted to fully educate them because it's not a cheap item," she says. Engagement with customers was crucial.
Amanda and her staff connect to their customers through social media, through phone calls and emails and even walk-ins. “We are very connectable,” she says.
Now in their fourth year of business, Zairyo has, according to Amanda, has managed to capitalize on their "snowball effect". For a period of time, Amanda says, "we were really popular with the media, mainly with regards to sea urchin".
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