Food biz pushes vegetable consumption with U.S. campaign

by Asako Takaguchi

Kyodo News

Corporate Japan is taking a cue from the United States and encouraging the public to eat more than 350 grams of vegetables and more than 200 grams of fruit each day in a bid to promote better health.

The original “5 A DAY” drive was launched in 1990 by the industrial, academic and governmental sectors of the United States.

The campaign, which urges people to eat at least five dishes of the foods each day, is said to have generated a surge in fruit and vegetable consumption and allegedly reduced incidences of cancer.

Some companies, including trading firms and retailers, are anticipating the same thing will happen in gradually Westernizing Japan.

Japan’s version of the campaign, 5 A DAY Association-Japan, was established in July 2002 and lists about 50 companies and a number of business organizations as members.

They are calling on people to consume more than five dishes containing at least 350 grams of vegetables and 200 grams of fruit in total each day.

The average Japanese person’s daily intake of vegetables amounted to about 270 grams, according to a 2003 survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

That figure has declined as the Japanese diet becomes increasingly Westernized.

Retailers and trading firms who distribute vegetables feel the change in eating habits is creating a national crisis, with the emphasis shifting to diets based on Western food instead of traditional meals centered on rice.

To promote vegetable consumption in the future, major supermarket chain Aeon Co. is holding “learning sessions” for elementary and junior high school students. The sessions, held at its stores, use games to quiz students on vegetables’ colors and shapes.

The company also takes them on field trips to vegetable farms in Hokkaido and Gunma prefectures so they can talk with farmers and experience the harvest.

In addition, Aeon is aggressively carrying out campaigns in which dietitians show homemakers how to make dishes featuring vegetables in season. Its PR department said the consumer-oriented programs have received positive feedback, including comments from mothers pleased that their children no longer shun vegetables at the table.

Restaurant chain Gourmet d’or Co., an Aeon affiliate, has started publicizing information detailing the amount of vegetables in its dishes at the 250 or so branches it operates across the country.

The restaurant said the effort may accelerate the sale of vegetable-based dishes once its restaurants establish an image as eateries where customers can get healthy quantities of vegetables.

Major trading firm Itochu Corp. offered a new menu option featuring dishes comprising meat and vegetables at its employee dining hall last month.

The new offerings, prepared by dietitians, include about 200 grams of vegetables, more than half the amount recommended for daily intake.

Itochu has also asked 30 employees to eat from the recommended menu and to eat similar meals at dinner and on their days off as an experiment.