Japan Tobacco (Mild Seven)

Benetton's title sponsor is Mild Seven, a brand of cigarettes which is owned by Japan Tobacco. The company can trace its roots back to the 16th century when the first tobacco monopoly was introduced in Japan. The current company was established around the government monopoly in 1898 with the passing of the Leaf Tobacco Monopoly Law. In addition to controlling the production of tobacco and manufacture of cigarettes in Japan, the company was also given a monopoly on the salt industry and so in 1949 became known as the Japan Tobacco and Salt Public Corporation. In 1957 it introduced the first filter-tipped cigarettes (under the Hope brand) into the Japanese market. Mild Seven itself was launched in 1977 and by 1981 had become the world's top-selling brand. The company also developed a series of other successful brands including Cabin, Caster, Seven Stars and Frontier.The company was incorporated as an independent business in 1985 (although the Japanese government retained the shares) and it diversified into agriculture and real estate. Two years later it also moved into pharmaceuticals.In the early 1990s Japan Tobacco began a major international expansion programme, opening its first foreign factory and becoming the title sponsor of the Benetton team in 1994, paying an estimated $20m a year. At the end of 1994 the Japanese Ministry of Finance sold 30% of the company but legally it must control no less than half the shares in the company in perpetuity. The company has agreements with various other tobacco firms to manufacture their products for the Japanese market at its 25 Japanese factories and so it has an 80% share of the domestic market. All 25,000 tobacco farmers in Japan supply to JT. The company's main export markets are in Asia.In 1996 Japan Tobacco bought the Burger King franchise for Japan and also controls the sale of Pillsbury products in the Japanese markets. Despite the diversification, however, non-tobacco businesses produce less than 5% of the company's revenues. The company has now exited the salt business.In March 1999 JT spent $8bn to buy the non-US tobacco business of RJ Reynolds, including the Camel, Winston and Salem brands. The deal made JT the world's third largest tobacco company.