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Japanese Products Preferred, Survey Says : Trade: Blue-collar workers, who traditionally buy American, are emerging as international shoppers.

February 21, 1991|CRISTINA LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Despite the continuing battle over U.S.-Japanese trade, American consumers still show a strong preference for Japanese products and their buying habits are unlikely to change any time soon, according to findings of a survey released Wednesday.

The nationwide survey, conducted by the Chicago research firm Market Facts Inc., also found that a growing number of U.S. blue-collar workers--who traditionally have favored U.S. products more than their white-collar counterparts--are emerging as buyers or potential buyers of Japanese goods.

"The overall finding that nationalistic bias among Americans does not translate into economic decisions is good news to all foreign companies with American operations," said Michael Kolbenschlag, editor of California Business magazine, a co-sponsor of the survey. "This goes to show that American consumers are buying with their heads rather than with their hearts."

The survey of 1,500 American households found that 59% of adults have purchased a Japanese product during the past year. That compared to 34% of those surveyed who had bought a product made in Europe.

The study also found that younger, affluent, white-collar workers--the so-called yuppie generation--were only slightly more likely to have purchased products from Japan as blue-collar workers. Of the buyers of foreign products, 89% of the white-collar group had purchased Japanese products during the past year compared to 87% of blue-collar households.

"The amazing thing about the study is that the blue-collar households have emerged as a true international shopper," said John Adams, an executive vice president at the Los Angeles office of Bozel Inc., a New York-based advertising agency that was the creator of Chrysler Corp.'s "buy American" ad campaign.

Added Kolbenschlag: "The flag-waving hard hats have no compunction about buying a Japanese or other foreign products so long as they perceive that the products are of high quality."

The survey was conducted early last summer before Iraq's invasion of Kuwait prompted criticism of Japan for what some viewed as its insufficient contribution to the U.S.-led allied forces effort to oust the Iraqi army from Kuwait.

Results of the study were presented Wednesday to the Orange County chapter of the Japan America Society of Southern California.

Steven C. Clemons, executive director of the Japan America Society, said the implication of the popularity of Japanese products among younger, affluent white-collar workers is profound.

That is because they are much less likely than their parents or grandparents to be loyal buyers of U.S.-made products, he said.

"As those yuppies get older, their buying power increases and the next decade could be a troubling period for American manufacturers," he said.

One weakness of the study is that it doesn't contrast the findings with Japan's market share in the various U.S. industries, Clemons said. In areas such as television, where Japanese companies have about 90% of the U.S. market, consumers may not have any choice but to buy Japanese, he said.

JAPAN'S HOLD ON U.S. MARKET THE COMPETITIONOf the adults surveyed who remembered buying foreign products in the previous 12 months, 59% recalled buying something from Japan--more than any other region of the world.

Product Percent Japan 59.0 Europe 34.1 Mexico 24.5 Korea 21.2 Canada 20.0 Australia/New Zealand 5.0 Other 46.9 Total Foreign 72.9

TOP 12 IMPORTS Respondents were asked to recall items they had bought from Japan. Here are the 12 products mentioned most often.

Product Percent Home video products 21.5 Camera film 20.3 Home audio products 16.9 Audio/videotapes 11.1 Watch 10.7 Camera 10.7 Hand calculator 8.0 Compact car 6.9 Beer 4.9 Car audio equipment 4.7 Cordless/cellular phone 4.0 Tea 3.5

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