Japan News Update (22 Feb. - 8 Mar. 2021)

Stay updated on the latest agricultural news in Japan, that we publish every two weeks.

by Yuki Sano

Effect Corona on retail/food service

With the second state of emergency due to the coronavirus's spread, the tendency to cook at home has increased. Supermarket and food delivery sales have been strong. Sales of home delivery services, in particular, grew by 21.6% year-on-year to 157.1 billion yen. On the other hand, sales at restaurants, department stores and convenience stores fell sharply due to a decline in customers as they refrained from going out.
Source: Impact of Emergency Declaration on Food Industry: Home delivery growing, food service struggling

Japanese food delivery service operators, including UberEats Japan, formed the Japan Food Delivery Service Association to better deal with delivery workers' issues. While food delivery services proliferate amid the prolonged effects of the coronavirus, the industry has not been well prepared for the rapid expansion, and various problems have become apparent. The association said it would compile guidelines to resolve issues surrounding delivery workers, such as traffic violations.
Source: Food Delivery Industry Group Formed in Japan, Uber Eats Japan, and other Japanese delivery companies establish Japan Food Delivery Service Association (same article translated from Japanese)

In January, department store sales in Japan fell 29.7% from a year earlier as the second state of emergency reduced customers' number. On the other hand, sales at supermarkets nationwide rose for the fourth consecutive month, up 1.2% from the same month last year, as people continued to stockpile food and other items to avoid going out amid the pandemic. Sales of food products increased by 6.2% from a year earlier.
Source: Japan's January department store sales fall 29% on virus emergency

Japanese brewing companies expect better profits this year as the beer business in the foodservice sector will likely recover following a national vaccination campaign. To make up for last year's decline, Japan's three breweries also aim to increase revenue from their alcohol businesses by stimulating consumption at home. In response to growing health consciousness, they will focus on healthier options such as sugar-free, low-malt beer and lower alcohol products.
Source: Japanese brewers forecast profit bubbles as COVID jabs begin

Corona and innovation; new digital service in retail technology in production

Aeon, one of Asia's leading retailers, is importing digital services to its home market after pilot programs in China, such as super-app and self-checkout terminals. After testing these services in China, Aeon selects suitable ones for Japan and introduces them in its major markets. The reason China became the starting point in Aeon's digital pivot is the country's openness to new services from companies such as Alibaba Group Holding. China has become the starting point for Aeon's digital pivot because Chinese companies such as Alibaba Group Holding are open to new services.
Source: Japan's top retailer Aeon imports tech lessons learned in China

Researchers at Hokkaido University are trialling the agricultural robot at a Japanese vineyard, Hokkaido Wine, for pesticide spraying and weed control. Through AI and 5G technologies, the robot can detect precipitation and spray the optimal amount of pesticides or fertilizers onto the grapes on the vineyard. According to Professor Noguchi, Japan's agriculture industry suffers from an ageing population and a shortage of experienced leaders. He said this robot would be helpful to such farmers.
Source: Grape idea: Hokkaido University’s sustainable robots offer respite for wine and pumpkin farmers in Japan

Vertical farming may prove to be an essential element in the future of sustainable food and food security in our warming world. With a sufficiently sophisticated vertical farming system, "light energy, water, fertilizer and land area are already much higher than those of open fields and greenhouses," says Toyoki Furuzai, honorary president of the Japan Plant Factory Association.
Source: Sustainable vertical farming offers food for thought in a changing world

Corona effect on food price

Food prices are rising worldwide due to the pandemic as foreign labourers cannot migrate for harvest seasons. Employment in agriculture decreased 490,000 in the July-September 2020 period compared to the same period last year in Japan, the U.S., and Europe, marking the more considerable plunge than the manufacturing and service sectors.
Source: Pandemic travel ban triggers a spike in global food prices

Corona effect on labour shortage in the food chain

Japan will likely continue to suspend business travel exemptions with China, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, as virus variants have been found in these countries. Many corporate players in aged care and agriculture - sectors suffering from severe labour shortages - call for new entries' resumption.
Source: Japan keeps foreign visitor ban to protect against COVID variants.

Department at Ginza
One of the department stores at Ginza

For previous agricultural news updates, click here.