Supermarket chain Ito-Yokado Co. held an initiation ceremony for 1,046 new recruits of its group companies Thursday, ahead of other similar rites by major companies.

The number of high school and university graduates hired by Ito-Yokado, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. and four other group firms represented an upsurge from the previous year’s 776.

The surge resulted mainly from a 2.8-fold jump to 455 in the number of new hires at group leader Ito-Yokado, which has opened a string of new large retail outlets.

Ito-Yokado officials said the six-firm group plans to increase the number of new hires to 1,200 next year.

The ceremony came at a time when the nation’s large retailers are suffering in the face of flagging revenues and profits amid intensifying competition.

The initiation came only 10 days after struggling supermarket chain Daiei Inc. saw its rehabilitation process get under way formally, with the state-backed Industrial Revitalization Corp. of Japan and a consortium led by Marubeni Corp. signing a contract to rebuild the retailer.

At the ceremony, Ito-Yokado Chairman Toshifumi Suzuki told the recruits to keep in mind the changing needs of shoppers.

“The past strategy of seeking to win over customers by offering ever-deeper discounts does not fit the needs of contemporary consumers whose level of needs has gone up,” Suzuki said.

“Even after you are assigned to work at each store, our company does not want you to lose the sensibilities you had when you were in the position of consumers,” he said.

Sayaka Suzuki, 22, who represented the recruits, responded to the chairman’s speech, saying, “We pledge to try to deal with changes of the times as well as customers’ needs without worrying about making mistakes.”

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