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Every time I go back to the States to see my family, before hopping on the plane, I swing by the convenience store to pick up some treats for my nieces and nephew. I figure if I can’t do anything about being “Uncle Who Only Visits Once a Year,” then I’m at least going to be “Uncle Who Only Visits Once a Year, but Brings Candy!”

The stuff I get for them isn’t anything particularly fancy. A few pieces of melon bread, whatever the newest mix of matcha green tea and chocolate is, and maybe a few packs of fruity Hi-Chew candy. This year might be my last chance to score some easy points with that last one, though, since in 2015 the makers of Hi-Chew are opening a factory in the U.S. to satisfy America’s sweet tooth with Japanese candy.

This isn’t the first time a Japanese company has scored such a hit with its exports that it decides to move some production to an American site. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda all have plants in the U.S., and major Japan-headquartered video game developers have been setting up U.S. studios since two decades ago.

Hi-Chew isn’t as high-tech as those examples, but the chewable candies have joined the list of such overseas success stories. Manufacturer Morinaga made its first major push to sell the product in the U.S. in 2008, but didn’t make much progress in the beginning. The product was hard to come by unless you were shopping at a Japanese or other Asian specialty supermarket, and it’s likely the candy would have stayed in that small sector of the market if not for the unsolicited endorsement of professional baseball player Junichi Tazawa.

Tazawa, a relief pitcher, took a unique path to the Big Leagues. After going undrafted out of high school, the Yokohama-native spent a few years playing in a Japanese corporate league before joining the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and being part of the team’s 2013 World Series Championship.

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Perhaps because of his lack of high-profile professional experience before coming to Boston, Tazawa was saddled with the job of making sure the team’s bullpen was stocked with chewing gum for players warming up. The Japanese transplant decided to make the snack mix international like the team’s roster, and also left out packs of Hi-Chew from his personal stash. These proved to be extremely popular with his American teammates, who had Tazawa scouring local Asian markets to procure enough for all the requests he was getting for more Hi-Chews.

Eventually unable to keep up with demand, Tazawa reached out to Morinaga, asking if the company could supply the Red Sox directly. Morinaga started doing so in 2012, and is now an official sponsor of the team, with Hi-Chew ads in Fenway Park and samples given out to visiting fans.

The extra publicity has propelled Hi-Chew’s popularity to new heights in the U.S., with 2013 sales double those of the previous year, and strong performance in 2014, too. With a distribution deal now in place with retailer Safeway and its 1,200 branches, Morinaga has decided to transition away from shipping Hi-Chew all the way from its factory in Taiwan, and 2015 will see the opening of a dedicated Hi-Chew factory in North Carolina.

In a way, this kind of internationalism is fitting for Morinaga, whose original founder, Tachiro Morinaga, travelled to America to study confectionary-making at the end of the 19th century. It’s a proud day for the company, and a happy one for Hi-Chew’s growing number of American fans. Really, it’s a win-win all around, unless you’re an expat who now needs to find some other cool candy to take home with you.

Source: Yahoo! Japan via Jin
Top image: Hi-Chew
Insert image: Wikipedia/Keith Allison