HelloFresh staff in Japan were among the last in the company to be made aware operations there were ending, according to a senior source.

Five days before Christmas last year, Thomas Griesel, HelloFresh CEO International, sent a group-wide email – sighted by The Grocer – announcing that the meal kit brand would be retreating from the Japanese market. But according to the source, the Japan team weren’t told until two days later that their employment would be terminated by the end of December. HelloFresh told The Grocer the Japan branch were informed 12 hours in advance of the rest of the organisation.

HelloFresh ceased operations in Japan last month, having launched there only nine months ago.

In the internal email, Griesel said the “pressure and increased focus on profitability and the long (and likely bumpy) road ahead to get to reasonable unit economics in Japan, as well as the vast investment we would have to make along the way, have led to this decision”.

The decision is understood to have been made quickly, with SVPs at the company visiting the region as late as mid-December.

“Overall it feels like either a very last minute decision, or [the result of] significant pressure from a major shareholder,” the source said.

The brand’s head of people for Japan described on LinkedIn of being blindsided by the announcement, adding that after being told operations would end they were given “very little visibility on the situation”. The swiftness of the retreat has seen customers charged for deliveries due to arrive in January and receiving flyers over the last fortnight promoting the service.

HelloFresh’s shuttering of its service in Japan comes just months after it launched in Ireland and Spain late last year. According to Griesel, the retreat from Japan “will not have an impact on other markets”.

”After careful consideration, HelloFresh has made the decision to leave the Japanese market and fully focus its efforts on growth opportunities in its other markets,” a spokeswoman for HelloFresh said. “When we launch and scale a new geography, it is common practice for us to review our product adoption frequently and evaluate longer term return expectations. The market readiness in Japan was not where it needed to be in order to justify additional growth funding, which is why we have decided to close our Japanese branch,” they added.