Food & Drink

Convenience stores tap into health boom

Kyodo

Convenience stores in Japan are seeking to tap into a health boom in an aging society, offering leaner meals and, in some cases, professional nutritional advice.

In mid-January, Lawson Inc. opened a pop-up shop in Marunouchi, a busy commercial district in central Tokyo, focusing on products that are low in carbohydrates for health-conscious businesspeople. Carbohydrate-rich foods include sugary snacks, rice and bread.

The store offers around 250 items, including bento box lunches, salads and beverages. Placards suggest nine meal combinations for specific types of customer. For example, one breakfast option for people who want to “work actively throughout the day” consists of a mixed sandwich, a green smoothie and a hard-boiled egg.

A suggested dinner for people planning to jog around the nearby Imperial Palace features a plate of keema curry with diced cauliflower instead of rice and a pack of five bite-sized fried chicken pieces. The store manager, who is a certified dietitian, is also on hand to advise customers on their eating habits.

The move seeks to capture a growing market in Japan for health-related products and services. Users of fitness gyms nationwide are on an upward trend, growing 9.3 percent between 2016 and 2017. Revenue in the fitness gym industry increased by 4.4 percent the same year, according to government statistics.

Japan’s graying population means that more elderly citizens — who are, generally speaking, more concerned about their health than younger generations — are using convenience stores than ever before.

Lawson CEO Sadanobu Takemasu said at an opening event that the store, to be open through Feb. 24, is part of his company’s efforts to increase the number of years a person is expected to live without illness or disability.

“They say we’re entering an era where people will live to 100 years old. We hope to extend people’s healthy life expectancy,” Takemasu said. His company will analyze purchase data at the pop-up store and develop new products and store layouts, he added.

Lawson is not alone in pursuing this section of the market. Rival FamilyMart Co. has been teaming up with fitness gym chain Rizap since 2016 to sell food for people looking to slim down, and recently announced a new line of products including low-carb instant ramen noodles.

Some FamilyMart shops with integrated drugstores also offer nutritional advice.

Seven-Eleven Japan Co., the country’s largest convenience store franchise, clearly marks the nutritional value of its food products on packaging to make it easier for shoppers to opt for a healthier choice.