The famous candy popsicle was created in 1980 by the ice cream company Akagi Nyugyo based in Fukaya (Saitama Prefecture) and is known for its classic ice candy shell and core of kakigori, a traditional summer treat of heaps of shaved ice and doused in flavored syrup. With over 200 million annual product sales a year (almost 1 million a day) the popsicle is a consistent top seller. The cool treat was born from the idea of a child being able to enjoy kakigori with one hand. However, the task would prove more difficult than the simple idea would make it seem.
The first iteration incased the shaved ice core in a jelly-type shell. But by the time it got into the hands of its early adopters, the jelly and and ice would become separated and leave not much more than an unappetizing stick. Not the kind to give up on a good idea, the company created multiple cream-based shells, but each ultimately failed until the hard ice candy version was finally achieved with perfect balance.
With the product perfected, the company’s next challenge was to find a face to match it with. Already decided on the name Gari-Gari (Crunchy-Crunchy), the mascot, and product, would simply be referred to as Gari-Gari Kun (Crunchy-Crunchy boy) who would embody the attitude and image of a 1930′s Showa-era, junior high school, “king of the playground” type character.
Officially released in 1981, at a price point of 50円 (around 25円 today) the popsicle came in four varieties including cola, soda, strawberry, and grapefruit and quickly climbed in popularity to gain half of the market share as it solely pushed its distribution through convenient stores. In 1991 the price increased to 60円, but no one seemed to mind as by 1994 the product’s annual total unit sales were at 66 million. In 2000, Gari-Gari kun’s image was renewed following fan surveys that included a 3D version of the mascot, television ad spots, and even its own video game franchise. The product was also made available in supermarkets boosting its annual sales as the company broke 100 million unit sales in a year for the first time.
With the introduction of special seasonal flavors, Gari-Gari Kun’s yearly sales jumped to 148 million popsicles by 2004. However, as surveys continued to show the character dipping in popularity, particularly among the female market, the decision was made to give the character some character. From that point on Gari-Gari Kun would be depicted in a variety of activities illustrated on the packaging to coincide with each flavor and time of year. Through 2005, the ice pop’s popularity continued to increase with multiple pop culture references and an ever expanding business, as more and more factories were created to keep up with the 24 hour demand.
-Gari-Gari Kun was originally purposefully illustrated to look poor to accentuate the product’s low price
-Including the “Rich Series,” Gari-Gari Kun has been available in over 50 flavors.
-Soft Kun was a milk based popsicle released in 1985 whose mascot was depicted as Gari-Gari Kun’s younger brother.
-Shari-Shari Kun was a limited release variation in February 2005 as a vanilla-soda flavor that featured Gari-Gari Kun dressed as a masked super hero.
-If you get an elusive “Atari” stick (一本当たり) you get another popsicle free of charge, and if you find a golden stick you get Japan’s most sought after t-shirt.
-Peak sales are during July while volumes move the slowest in February.