Have you had Pocky, the chocolate-covered biscuit snack that is easy to snack on without making your fingers sticky with molten chocolate? Or how about Pretz (プリッツ), a similar biscuit stick that is dusted with a savory seasoning? These snacks are staples in Japan and loved all over the world.
But who came up with these snacks? How are they made? And just how much of them can we bring home from a visit to the factory that makes them?
To answer all these questions, my lovely interpreter Yun-chan and I went to the Glicopia East, one of the facotires for Glico in Japan. After about a 10 minute drive from Kitamoto station, we were warmly welcomed by the site manager, Mr. Masashi Hyodo.
Since it was already late in the afternoon, we started our tour with the souvenir shop since it was closing soon. As expected, giant Pocky and other Pocky and Pretz related merch galore awaited us!
With a cute pair of Pocky socks and a box of exclusive milk chocolate Pocky in hand, we marched on to the first stage of the factory tour, the College Hall, where we learned about the history of Glico, its founder Riichi Ezaki, and how chocolate is made.
The College Hall: the History of Glico
Riichi was born into a humble family but was studious and interested in business. His journey eventually led him into the cabin of fishermen that were boiling river oysters in a big pot. It is said that he supposed that the water used in the process contained high quantities of glycogen (a type of glucose, a.k.a. sugar), extracted from the oysters. After successfully testing his theory and realizing that such a molecule would be a healthy source of energy for youngsters, he came up with a caramel candy recipe that included glycogen (hence the name of the company that he subsequently formed). The heart-shaped soft toffee, which also came with a small toy much like a Kinder Surprise, was the flagship of the company until Riichi eventually expanded the range of its products to Pretz and later Pocky.
Glico Town: a Gallery of Past Products
The attached toys went from being mostly metal pendants or playable toys to being simple plastic or wooden effigies of animals, popular characters, or common items. More than 1500 of them are displayed in the second stage of the tour: Glico Town. Alongside the toy gallery is also an exhibit of all the Pocky box designs throughout the history of the brand, starting with the introduction of the iconic product in 1966. In reality, its appearance has not changed much since then!
The Photo Studio: Pose with the “Goal-in-Mark” (Running Man)
In the same area is the Photo Studio zone where visitors can pose inside a giant Pocky box or in front of the Glico “Goal-in-Mark,” or Running Man. The “Goal-in-Mark” was originally on the first launched Glico product. It is meant to symbolize the founder Riichi Ezaki’s original spirit of promoting health through food.
The Manufacturing Factory: How Pocky/Pretz is Made
After a quick lap to verify that theory (seemed to check out!), we headed towards the core of the tour: a visit to the actual manufacturing line.
It consisted of two parts: Pocky Street and Pretz street, both long corridors with floor-to-ceiling glass panes for viewing the factory employees at work. The factory workers are covered head-to-toe to avoid any unwanted contamination and work at the rhythm of the automated lines which span a few hundred meters long. Since the factory is only a few years old, the equipment was modern and very well maintained. The impeccable cleanliness (perfect 5S) and the earthquake-proofing (basically bolting everything to the ground) was an obvious reminder of the nationality of our hosts.
We could only see the Pocky being packaged, but we were able to see the Pretz actually being made: from shaping the dough into strings, dusting, oven-curing, and finally to packing. The long strings of dough are pre-cut (like a bag of chips) before entering the linear oven and naturally breaking off at the seams from their heat-induced hardening.
Almost no scraps, a good cadence, and a high degree of automation while keeping a harmonious man-machine interface: that’s solid 9.5/10 industrial engineering for me.
The Stadium Hall: Glico Quiz Time
In any case, we then proceeded to take a quick cinema-interactive quiz at the next tour stage: the Stadium Hall. To be honest, it kind of hurt a little that we, two grown adults, lost to some kids, but that is just what you get for fooling around while filming stuff during the tour I guess!
The Mini-Factory: Decorate Your Own Giant Pocky
Finally, a select number of people (well, mostly young children and us) had the privilege to partake in the coveted Mini-Factory activity: the Pocky-making challenge. I would guess that this is a favorite of many, and we had a lot of fun bedazzling our giant Pocky with sugar pearls and hearts, and haphazardly drawing shapes on them in chocolate.
Interview with the Site Manager: Mr. Hyodo
And thus, our factory tour ended, with glycogen in our bloodstream, and chocolate in our bellies and our hearts… Well, not quite actually, because we also got to interview the site manager Mr. Hyodo!
Upon being asked what part of the tour he thought was the most exciting, he replied with the factory line viewing, which to be honest was my favorite part too! I think everyone has a deep-rooted curiosity in knowing how things are made, and it is even more satisfying to see complex machinery in action. He also confided to us that his preferred Pocky flavor was the seasonal “冬のくちどけ” Pocky (literally, the “winter melt-in-your-mouth Pocky”), which is coated in a cocoa power similar to a chocolate truffle. We also asked what dream flavor he would like to see made reality, and of course, it turned out to be “酒” (liquor). Japanese people always amaze me, but rarely surprise me! Mine would, of course, involve milk chocolate and a ton of caramel, but who knows how that would fare on the local market…
As a closing statement, he wanted to urge foreigners to come to enjoy the tour and make cherished memories. We couldn’t agree more, and hope to see our readers around, living their Liiife in Japan to the fullest!
- Price: Free, except for the Mini Factory (500 yen) for kids older than a certain age, depending on availability
- English Support: Yes
- Hours: 9:30 – 4:00 PM (closed on Fridays, national holidays, and during factory maintenance)
- Phone Number: 048-593- 8811 (reservation only)
- Website: https://www.glico.com/jp/enjoy/experience/glicopia/east (only in Japanese)
- Address: 〒364-0013埼玉県北本市中丸9丁目55番地 (Nakamaru 9 – 55, Kitamoto City, Saitama 364-0013)
- 45 minutes by train from Shinjuku or Ueno to Kitamoto station + 10-15 min by taxi or bus (line 15, 8th stop when going, 9th when coming back)
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