UJI-EN, a Japanese family-owned tea company dating back nearly 150 years, has opened more than 20 stores in Japan and two in Mainland China, but is relatively unknown outside Japan. HEAD Architecture was engaged to create a new retail concept merging a cafe with homewares and packaged food offer, to introduce the brand to a Hong Kong audience, incorporating a more youthful feel likely to engage millennials and to capitalise on the growing popularity of green tea products. The concept was developed for rollout across Greater China. An added challenge was that the 1200 square foot L-shaped floor space bordered three sides of an atrium in the Harbour City shopping centre, bisected by an escalator well.
Founded in 1869, Kyoto-headquartered UJI-EN has a rich history and has clearly established a loyal customer base in Japan. Yet, abroad the name was not widely known - and like any successful brand, it has to evolve in an ever-changing market. Our challenge was to design a retail space which conveyed a sense of austerity, history and trust - yet which would appeal to a younger demographic seeking a modern, trendy destination to relax and dine. Our design was inspired by a traditional wood-framed Japanese Tea House, using a mixture of light and dark timbers and liberal doses of matcha green. The resulting design is a bright, open engaging retail space unlike anything in its category.
Green tea, or matcha, is a rapidly growing food & beverage category in Asia, and further afield. But there are few retail executions which focus on the food as its core and combine different elements of the food and dining experience. The UJI-EN flagship in Hong Kong is about much more than just green tea. While it offers a tea-centric cafe-style dining experience, the menu features cookies, confectionery, cakes and ice cream. A highly-visible element of the Harbour City store is a servery selling takeaway ice creams served in cups or cones. Beyond the food offer, UJI-EN offers an assortment of homewares for those embracing the green tea lifestyle: a curated selection of teapots, cups, bowls and accessories is displayed along with brightly coloured packages of tea and snack foods in a variety of flavours for home use or for gifting.
Before embarking on its first foray offshore, UJI-EN conducted its own extensive research on the potential for its green tea products in Greater China. In Hong Kong it appointed a partner familiar with local demographics, trends and taste preferences before agreeing on a menu adapted to the local palate. Our role was to create a retail facility showcasing the food and homewares offer and combining that with a dine-in environment which Hongkongers would fine an appealing and attractive destination. Our design team works widely across Asia, including in Mainland China, Macau and Kuala Lumpur, giving us widespread exposure to F&B and other retail concepts. As the vision evolved for the Harbour City store, members of our team visited traditional Japanese tea houses in Osaka and Kyoto as well as a variety of tea retailing concepts in major Chinese cities including Beijing and Taipei. We also looked at cafes in Hong Kong shopping centres, looking to see which venues were typically busier than others, and which were the most successful in drawing shopper dwell-time. We knew that the product was a strong offer, especially given the brand’s near-150 year success; our role was to create an environment which made that product hero and placed it firmly on the radar of contemporary consumers.