Scandal Hit Japanese Cake & Candy Maker Gets New President

Japanese confectioner Fujiya said it had picked a new president Monday to replace Rintaro Fujii, who announced his resignation after revelations that the company had used old milk, eggs and other ingredients in its cakes.

Media coverage here has been dominated by the unfolding scandal at Fujiya, a prestigious chain founded in 1910 and famous for its "Peko-chan" smiling girl mascot and high quality cakes.

Yasufumi Sakurai, currently serving as a company director, was tapped as new president in a decision approved during a board meeting early Monday, a company spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

Fujii's resignation came after the cake and candy maker said it had found expired ingredients, including milk, cream, eggs, blueberry jam and apple filling were used in its products. The timing and other details could not be released immediately, the spokesman said.

"I'm determined to go back to where we started business, with a commitment that Fujiya's trademark 'Peko-chan' is for the customers, and reconstruct the company," Sakurai, told a news conference. He will be the president outside the Fujii family to head the company.

The company also was to appoint a team of experts from outside the company to discuss corporate reforms, public broadcaster NHK reported.

The scandal is the latest in a series of quality-control fiascos at the nation's top brands in recent years. Cover-ups of defects at Mitsubishi Motors and food-poisoning at Snow Brand Milk Products have raised serious questions about corporate ethics and the adequacy of systematic checks on wrongdoing. Fujiya has also acknowledged a cover-up, infuriating the public.

Fujiya said it discovered the use of old milk in November, when a company team trying to revive the money-losing cake business visited a plant in Saitama prefecture, just north of Tokyo.

There have been no reported cases of illness in the current scandal, but Fujiya last week acknowledged it had failed to reveal a 1995 food poisoning case that sickened nine after eating custard-filled cakes tainted with bacteria made at another factory.

The franchise's cake stores, numbering about 800 nationwide, have been voluntarily closed since last week.

Although expired ingredients have been found in only Fujiya's baked goods, major Japanese retailers have swiftly removed Fujiya's other products from their shelves, including candy and chocolate, from their stores, adding a financial blow to Fujiya.

Under Japanese law, a manufacturer can be ordered shut down if it is found to have seriously violated sanitation laws.