Japan’s C-Stores Fight Food Waste

Retailers offer discounts on soon-to-expire items.

November 05, 2019

TOKYO—Japanese convenience stores are starting to fight food waste, reports Mainichi, one of Japan’s national daily news outlets.

On Oct. 30, 7-Eleven Japan began a test program in 1,361 stores that rewards shoppers for buying food items that are close to their expiration dates by giving them extra points on their prepaid electronic money cards. The extra points are essentially a discount that can be used on other items.

Seven-Eleven Japan President Kazuki Furuya, said, "To create a brand that is loved over time, we have to be truly committed to tackle Japan's social problems," emphasizing the significance of the convenience store operator's initiative.

Items included by the e-money point reward offer are rice balls, sandwiches and spaghetti, among others. When a shopper buys these items with their "nanaco" e-money card, they are given points worth 5% of the price of the purchased products before sales tax. The points can be used to shop at 7-Eleven stores and other locations. The company will test the discount offer until the end of the year and, if successful, will implement it in other stores next spring.

Lawson, another large convenience store chain, tested a point-reward system this summer at about 450 outlets. Customers earned five points per 100 yen when they bought food items nearing their sell-by dates. The firm is considering full-scale implementation. In addition, one of Japan’s other major convenience stores, FamilyMart, launched an order system this fiscal year for sales of seasonal products that often end up as food waste, such as "eho-maki" good fortune sushi rolls, eel bento boxes and Christmas cakes.

In Japan’s convenience store industry, delivering fresh food items, including bento boxes and rice balls, to stores several times a day is the norm. This keeps shelves full of products and avoids out-of-stock situations. But the stores throw out all the food products at their "sell-by time," which is set a few hours before their actual expiration dates. This produces massive food losses, which have become a social problem. The government intervened in January, asking convenience stores and supermarkets to reconsider how they operate.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the estimated amount of food waste in Japan totaled 6.43 million metric tons in fiscal 2016, meaning that some 1,700 10-ton trucks worth of food was discarded daily. Food businesses produced 3.52 million tons of food waste, while households threw out 2.91 million tons of still-edible food. On Oct. 1, Japan implemented a law designed to reduce food waste, and now businesses are required to actively engage in initiatives to cut down on food losses.