It has taken three decades, but New Zealand food manufacturer Cookie Time has established its first overseas venture, opening a store in Japan.
The Christchurch-based firm, founded in 1983, will officially open its Cookie Muncher Cookie Bar in Harajuku, an upmarket shopping district of Tokyo, this afternoon.
It's Cookie Time's second retail venture, after the opening of a flagship store in Queenstown in 2010.
The Tokyo site is operated by IceCo, a Japanese supermarket and frozen food operator which has been granted an exclusive licence to operate Cookie Bar stores in Japan. IceCo plans to open two additional outlets within the next year.
The New Zealand company exports frozen dough to Japan, which is baked into cookies in Tokyo. The store also sells coffee, icecream and Cookie Muncher merchandise, such as earmuffs, iPhone covers, gift boxes and clothing.
Cookie Time general manager Lincoln Booth said the Cookie Time brand - particularly the Cookie Muncher cartoon character - had struck a chord with Japanese consumers and the Harajuku outlet had traded strongly since its soft launch in December and was already outperforming the Queenstown store.
"Japanese clientele love the brand, the Cookie Muncher and the whole concept of hot cookies and milk," Booth said. "The Japanese tend to gravitate towards unique characters - the Hello Kitty is an example of that and the Cookie Muncher certainly reaches out into that same space."
He said IceCo could open 20 to 30 Cookie Bar stores in Japan over the next three to five years.
Cookie Time is also negotiating retail licensing deals in Malaysia and Thailand. "Within 12 to 18 months we'll be in a position to enter other markets," Booth said.
China is also a potential market, despite the intellectual property issues the firm faces in that country.
In 2012, the company said it was "going to war" with a Chinese firm that had lodged a trademark application to use the Cookie Time logo in China.
At the time Booth said the application was blocking the company's own efforts to register its brand in the Chinese market.
The intellectual property issues would probably have to be sorted out before the company could enter the world's second-biggest economy, Booth said.