Stores fire up their networks to quickly send aid to flood areas


Staff Writer

Following torrential rain that triggered massive flooding in the northeast and led to the evacuation of thousands of people, major retailers and convenience store operators rushed to deliver supplies for those affected by the disaster.

When news broke Thursday that the collapse of the banks of the Kinugawa River caused massive flooding in Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, FamilyMart Co. quickly dispatched trucks carrying food supplies.

By early Friday, the nation’s third-biggest convenience store operator had distributed around 3,000 packages of instant noodles and 3,000 bottles of drinking water to some of the victims taking shelter in the city.

“In the event of an emergency, we try to get as much information as possible about the basic needs from our chain stores and local communities,” a FamilyMart spokeswoman said, adding that the convenience store supply network is already established across the country. “Easy access to information about stock availability allows us to respond quickly, which is one of the strengths of this business.”

Retailers and convenience store operators established an agreement years ago with local municipalities under which they immediately deliver food and other vital supplies to disaster-hit areas by utilizing their outlet and distribution networks.

To avoid sending supplies that might turn out to be useless, the company works closely with social welfare councils and organizations providing aid to the victims who inform them about the actual needs and numbers of evacuees.

FamilyMart’s franchising contractors also delivered 200 onigiri rice balls, bottles of water and instant noodles to an elementary school for rescue team members at an evacuation center in Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

The supplies are delivered from distribution centers closest to the affected areas.

Retail giant Seven & I Holdings Co., which operates in seven business segments, including convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores, also rushed emergency aid, sending 6,000 rice balls to flood-struck Joso as early as Thursday.

Along with the total of 20,000 onigiri and 5,000 packages of instant noodles sent to the evacuation center in Osaki as well as the fire department headquarters in Koyama, Tochigi Prefecture, the company delivered blankets and underwear.

The company also offered 72 hours of free Wi-Fi service access from its stores.

“We are prepared to provide aid in case of a disaster and have been providing such assistance for years,” a Seven & I spokeswoman said. “This time we are also concerned how soon we will be able to resume operation at our stores located in those areas.

Seven & I also offered supplies in February 2014 during a record snowfall that left several towns and cities isolated, she said.

That year, the company dispatched four helicopters to deliver 47,500 different items of food and drink to several of the group’s stores in Yamanashi Prefecture on four consecutive days.

Meanwhile, major retailer Aeon Co. on Thursday sent around 11,000 items — including bread, tea and instant noodles — to Nikko and other cities in Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures.

Supplies sent the next day to the cities of Joso and Tsukubamirai in Ibaraki and several locations in Tochigi, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures included 20 portable toilets, toilet paper and sanitary items for women.

On Thursday, Lawson Inc. dispatched trucks with 10,000 packages of noodles and bottled water to Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures.

“It’s not the first time we have offered our help, as our company has been providing emergency aid for more than a decade and we have worked closely with local communities,” said Ming Li, a public relations officer at Lawson.

Li said that in response to similar situations, the company is prepared to send products from its 100 distribution centers nationwide.

In this case, Li said, Lawson convenience stores in the affected areas were not severely damaged by the disaster.