Soft drink makers will take the unprecedented step of selling their products via uniform vending machines in post offices across the country, industry officials said Tuesday.

The tieup involves nine beverage makers, whose products will initially be available at the Tokyo Central Post Office beginning Wednesday.

The drinks will be available at about 5,000 post offices by the summer, and at about 10,000 by the end of March 2005, the officials said.

The nine firms are Coca-Cola (Japan) Co., Asahi Soft Drinks Co., Otsuka Beverage Co., Kagome Co., Calpis Beverages Co., Kirin Beverage Co., Sapporo Breweries Ltd., Suntory Foods Ltd. and Yakult Honsha Co.

A vending machine company affiliated with Coca-Cola (Japan) initiated the move. The company is trying to expand its business by using the nationwide network of about 25,000 post offices.

Japan Post, a government corporation that handles the country’s postal services, has approved the offer on condition that an industrywide alliance is forged. This condition was stipulated in light of the public-oriented nature of post offices, the officials said.

The newly developed vending machine can accommodate 20 to 36 types of canned beverages, with each of the nine companies providing two to four kinds of popular drinks.

Fashion designer Junko Koshino designed the facade of the machine, which sports a variety of plain colors that differ according to region. It carries no ads or beverage makers’ names.

According to the officials, two more beverage makers are set to join the vending-machine alliance, which will give Japan Post an opportunity to provide customers with ancillary services.

Enhancing the functions of post offices figures high on the debate agenda with regard to the postal privatization plans of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

The new vending-machine service is expected to be viewed as an example of diversified services provided by post offices.

Japan Post has already promoted tieups with private-sector businesses since its inauguration in April. Japan Post took over the postal services previously undertaken by the Postal Services Agency.

Some post offices already host convenience stores, coffee shops and flower shops.


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