• Kyodo

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Unique vending machines selling frozen food ranging from slices of fish to Swiss rolls have been gaining popularity in northern Japan, providing a new source of income for pandemic-hit businesses while allowing customers to purchase goods without the risk of contracting COVID-19.

One vending machine, installed by fish wholesaler Chibasuisan in a residential area of Sapporo, supplies boneless slices of fish such as salmon and mackerel priced from ¥300 ($2.70) to ¥1,500.

“It’s nice to be able to take your time to decide what to get without having in-person interactions,” said Teruyuki Nagai, 49, who bought 500 grams of salmon from the machine in late September.

The company, which normally provides fish for school lunches, launched sales via the vending machine in August as hospitals and nurseries that it had been catering to were temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The fish slices available in the machine have all been filleted, making the products convenient for cooking.

A variety of frozen cakes, such as Swiss rolls, can also be purchased for ¥500 from vending machines installed by confectionery firm Climb Inc. in Sapporo.

Reduced demand for its sweets at hotels and for flight meals led the company to launch the vending machines in April, with such sales now making up a quarter of the firm’s total, it said.

Meanwhile in the city of Otaru, one can find around 40 different types of frozen meat in vending machines located at the factory of supplier Itoshoji, with cuts of lamb meat for local specialty barbecue dishes being the most popular, the company said.

And at the end of September, a barbecue restaurant in Sapporo began placing frozen food vending machines outside its shop as part of a new COVID-19 strategy to get more customers to try its grilled meat selections in the comfort of their own home or at camp sites as they avoid eating out due to risks of infections.

According to Sanden Retail Systems Corp., which manufactures vending machines for frozen food, its appliances had been installed across 41 of the country’s 47 prefectures as of late August.

“We would like (vending machines) to be utilized by many businesses as a new marketing method during the coronavirus pandemic,” a company employee said.

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