• Jiji, Kyodo


An increasing number of consumers are buying high-quality fresh food from websites originally for use by professional cooks, at a time when many eateries remain shut or are operating for shorter hours amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Many people are apparently trying to improve their quality of life with good food as they continue to be asked by authorities to refrain from going out. The moves are expected to give a new business opportunity to fishers and farmers who are struggling with plummeting demand from the food service industry, analysts said.

The number of food producers registered on online market Pocket Marche, which connects them with consumers, stood at 2,472 as of Monday, up from 1,955 as of February.

Orders taken through the website in April jumped 10 times from February, and the number of registered users has topped 140,000, according to its operator. On the site, producers can teach consumers how to cook and preserve their products, and consumers can post messages and photos of dishes they made using the produce.

Since March, the operator has been supporting food producers hit by the virus crisis by establishing a dedicated section for them on the site.

Sales tumbled about 40 percent year on year in March at a company in Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, that produces the hakkinton brand pork.

The company, which usually deals with a total of some 200 restaurants and others in Japan, started selling the pork on Pocket Marche last month.

“We have spent a year raising our pigs,” Makoto Takahashi, the 46-year-old president of the company, said. “Hakkinton will lose its brand value if we miss the right timing for sale.”

The company has received positive messages from consumers, such as “It was delicious” and “Hang in there!”

“We’re grateful and feel encouraged,” Takahashi said.

Ryoshi-san Chokuso Shijo, a website that sells seafood such as horned turbans and Japanese spiny lobsters, is also attracting consumer attention. While orders from eateries have fallen sharply, those from households grew fourfold from a year before in April.

“I think many people are trying to enrich their diets and enjoy eating while staying home,” said Yoichiro Uegaito, president of Value Data, the website’s Nara-based operator.

Toyosu no Kiwami, a service to deliver fresh foods from the Toyosu wholesale market in Tokyo to households, on April 28 started selling a set of high-quality fish, such as red sea bream and Japanese tiger prawn, that have been carefully selected by skilled wholesalers, as well as fresh vegetables also from Toyosu.

The product became an instant hit, enjoying orders about 10 times the anticipated level, according to an employee at the service’s operator.

The service “is helping protect the lives and jobs of food producers and workers in the distribution industry,” the employee said.

The public sector is also making similar efforts. The Wakayama Prefectural Government launched a special portal website last week to sell the prefecture’s local produce, such as plums and mikan oranges, directly to consumers who are staying home. A Wakayama official said the web project will help struggling local food producers survive the ongoing economic hardships.

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