Posts Tagged ‘convenience stores’

Natural Lawson takes it to the next level

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Natural Lawson & food kurkuu. A template for a new kind of convenience store?

If you’re looking for farm fresh, healthy produce, the convenience store isn’t exactly the first place you think of visiting, but there has been a shift in konbini (convenience store) culture in recent years that sees some brands offering healthier options. Busy office workers who want to snack on something other than cup noodles or reheated spaghetti bolognaise now have Circle K’s Think Body range of readymade meals, or 7-Eleven’s range of healthy salads available. But the brand which has really been at the forefront of providing healthier options has been Natural Lawson, and a new concept store that opened in the Gaienmae area last month might be a template for other convenience stores in the future.

A tie-up with online store kurkku, Natural Lawson & food kurkku convenience store offers an amped-up version of the Natural Lawson experience. Offering organic, healthy fare, the store stocks kurkku produce that has been sourced from farmers all over Japan. There’s been a trend in supermarkets of late to give customers a better sense of where their food is coming from, by providing information and often pictures of domestic food producers. Tying up with kurkku is a good way for Natural Lawson to copy this sales strategy in the convenience store. Embracing the slow food movement farm fresh vegetables, meat, fish and fruit are sold alongside the usual ready made meals.

The atmosphere is more posh department store than Kwik-E-Mart, and the brand is aiming to attract the demographic of health-concious female shoppers who are care about the provenance of the food they eat. Other features that make it stand out from the cheap ‘n’ cheerful konbini is its instore bakery, which sells fresh-from-the-oven pastries that can be eaten at the cafe-style “eat-in corner” and a coffee machine that actually grinds fresh beans. At the deli, the food is “produced” by celebrity chef Miyuki Igarashi. Downstairs is kurkku cave restaurant, which serves a healthy menu and has an impressive range of 1,000 wines.

The collaboration also marks another milestone for the kurkku empire, which is bankrolled by Mr. Children producer Takeshi Kobayash and continuies to claim plots of land in this neck of Tokyo.  Lawson, Inc., the second largest convenience store chain in Japan, will surely profit from its association with the eco-hip brand.

At the time of writing it’s not known whether more Natural Lawson & food kurkku outlets will be opened. Most likely that be determined by the success of this experiment. At the very least, perhaps this venture will inspire other konbini to up their game.

A win-win for Nadeshiko and Japan’s merchants

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Takashimaya's Nadeshiko commemorative dessert

As Japan welcomes back its women’s soccer team from their world cup triumph, Nadeshiko fever grips the nation. While the team’s victory is sure to spur women’s interest in soccer, it has also inspired the nation’s merchants. From sushi restaurants to department stores, special celebratory offers are the order of the day.

Sponichi Annex reports that Nadeshiko Sushi in Akihabara (which existed long before the women’s team was dubbed Nadeshiko) has been supporting the women’s team since it began kicking butt around the middle of the tournament. While the team battled it out on the field, the staff of the restaurant proudly wore its colors and when they won, the sushiya celebrated by dropping their ¥980 set meals to ¥700. In nearby Kanda, Izakaya Nadeshiko also discounted its sashimi set from ¥1,200 to ¥600. The izakaya naturally benefited from its name, as it popped up in online searches for the women’s soccer team’s name.

Over in konbini land, Family Mart is selling commemorative goods and holding a special thanks sale in honor of the Nadeshiko team up until July 25. Customers who buy items such as beer get entered into a lottery to win prizes.

Takashimaya will be selling a range of commemorative items from July 23 in honor of the victory. The department store also got on the ball quickly and invented a new Nadeshiko commemorative dessert. The blue and green lemonade jelly confection, which has a cute white-chocolate soccer ball perched on top, is available at the store’s rooftop beer garden for ¥420.

Not surprisingly, publishers are seeing brisk sales with Nadeshiko-related content.  According to Sankei News, a book titled “Homare” by  team captain Homare Sawa was sold out by July 18 at Kinokuniya stores across the country. Book 1st also sold out of “Honmare” as well as “Nadeshiko Power” (a book by teammate Sasaki Norio) before the final. The company is now placing an order 10 times as big as the last order for fresh copies.

Because no one was expecting the ladies’ team to beat the odds and come out on top, manufacturers were caught unawares. So we’re betting there will be plenty more Nadeshiko-related tie-ups to come.

China: the next frontier for konbini

Friday, May 13th, 2011

A local 24-hour convenience store in the city of Shenyang, Liaoning Province.

Aiming to export Japanese convenience store culture, four big Japanese companies are laying plans for expansion into China. Seven Eleven, Lawson, Mini Stop and Family Mart are all intending to open more stores in the near future, going up against both domestic and other foreign competitors for a lucrative slice of China’s convenience store pie.

While China has its own convenience store chains, such as Kedi, which has over 700 outlets in Shanghai and other parts of China, there’s no particular chain dominating the market nationwide, leaving the field open for Japanese names, as well as Tesco and Wallmart (who operate under the name of Smart Choice, or Hui Xuan in Chinese), to take the lead. And it’s not just the big players who are competing; China also has an abundance of privately run local stores.

According to Nikkei Trendy, big convenience store chains in China have the image of being cheap and rather fashionable. In addition they stock foreign goods unavailable in locally run stores. Japanese convenience chains stock items like bento pack lunches and onigiri rice balls which are perceived by the Chinese public as being high-quality products. The Chinese media, who’ve been taking note of the convenience-store wars, have been impressed with the standard of service at Japanese convenience stores compared with that of locally run small businesses.

As in Japan, convenience stores don’t just limit themselves to selling everyday goods; it’s also now possible to pay utility bills and make purchases over the Internet using a Lakala terminal. These terminals are proving very popular, and there are now over 40,000 spread across 246 towns and cities in China. Having one of these terminals available in-store appears to be a key factor toward winning over the market in China.

Plans for expansion by Japanese firms are as follows: Lawson aims to have opened 10,000 stores by 2020;  Family Mart wants to increase the number of stores from the existing 400 stores into 4,500; Seven Eleven, who opened 100 stores in Beijing and Tianjin in 2010, wants to open 50 in Chengdu by the end of 2011; and Mini Stop is slated to 200 shops within five years.

One difficulty that Japanese businesses might encounter is anti-Japanese sentiment. At the end of 2010 when tensions were running high over the Senkaku Islands issue, Japanese retailers Ito Yokado and Isetan suffered damage at the hands of protesters. However, at present, the market looks set to expand throughout 2011.

Photo: Prince Roy

 

Some konbeni snacks with your favorite anime?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

K-On! goods displayed in Lawson convenience store

K-On! goods displayed in Lawson convenience store

Pop culture and junk food are a perfect combination: Both are brightly colored, easy to consume and totally moreish. Personally I can while away whole afternoons watching anime while stuffing potato chips and chocolate down my gullet. Sure,  I end up feeling a little sick and ashamed at the end, but while it lasts, the experience is sublime.

Space Battleship Yamato drinks at Family Mart

Space Battleship Yamato drinks at Family Mart

That’s why convenience-store tie-in campaigns that target anime and movie fans make so much sense. A limited-edition K-On! Choco Snack has proven to be hugely popular, so popular that Gigazine discovered that it had disappeared off the shelves of the local Lawson within hours of going on sale Nov. 9.  In addition to the K-On! Fair at Lawson, this month Seven-Eleven and Family Mart are also running campaigns. Here’s a round up of what’s on offer:

  • K-On!, an anime about five high school girls who form a band, is the focus of Lawson’s campaign. K-On! fans can purchase special yaki-soba sandwiches, cold cocoa drinks, sticker sets and caramel corn. Fans can also accumulate points by buying Gogo no Kocha drinks, which then qualifies them to win lottery prizes that include T-shirts, K-On! figurines and a custom-made electric guitar.  Lawson is also selling K-On! phone cards, K-On! figurines (from Nov. 16) and tote bags (that can be purchased on Loppi). The campaign runs until Nov. 29.
  • Fans of One Piece should set sail for Seven-Eleven. Customers who spend over ¥700 can enter into a prize draw to win special pirate-themed One Piece booty. Some drinks also come with a free cell-phone strap.
  • To promote the upcoming release of “Space Battleship Yamato,” Family Mart is running a special campaign until Nov. 29. Customers who spend over ¥500 can apply for a special lottery to win movie-themed goods. Sweetening the deal, Yamato-themed pastries and drinks are available.

Last chance for cheap smokes

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Red Bull and smokes

Buy today or pay the price tomorrow

To smokers in some Western countries, Tokyo’s looming all-time-high tax hike is a pittance – with prices increasing by ¥110 to ¥140, cigarettes here will still cost less than half as much as in New York or London. But everything’s relative, and an increase from ¥300 to over ¥400 has smokers planning strategies and convenience stores cashing in.

For years, single or double packs of cigarettes have come packaged with trinkets, from directly useful products like lighters and pocket ashtrays to more tangential goodies like sparkly makeup mirrors and canned coffee. (What’s that? You wish someone had compiled a site with photos of all the trinkets that come packaged with Japanese cigarettes for the last 10 years, sortable by brand or by type of giveaway? Done. ) Now some cartons, packs of 10 boxes, come with tote bags (buy three boxes, get a bag), the better to haul the goods home with. And people are stocking up. Convenience store cigarette sales this month have been double the sales of last September, according to Jiji Press. At Lawson, some 30% of cigarette sales have been in cartons. Signs for advance orders of cartons are ubiquitous at tobacco shops, convenience stores and even supermarkets. Orders made before the end of September will be charged at the pre-hike price, even if the cigarettes are picked up after the beginning of October.

There seems to be increased interest lately on Internet message board 2chan.net, too, in private importers like my-tobacco.com and Gala Store.  However,  people buying through these sites seem to have had varying levels of satisfaction with the buying experience, with some having to pay tax on delivery.

Lawmakers say the purpose of the increase, and future increases already being eyed, is to reduce the number of smokers and cut down on the 100,000 deaths caused by smoking each year in Japan. While anecdotally some people are saying this increase is enough to prompt them to quit, some are taking a different tack: Kyodo News quoted an economist as saying he’d stockpiled 1,000 packs already.

Big (only) in Japan? Tape as proof of purchase

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

The tape on the handle of this bag keeps it closed and proves its been paid for.

The tape on the handle of this bag keeps it closed and proves it’s been paid for.

While Japanese government is keen to promote its green policies, the country does go through a lot of shopping bags. If you buy boxes of sweets as souvenirs, generally the company will ask how many bags you would like, enabling you to deliver the goods to multiple individuals still bagged. Order a set meal to go, or even just a coffee to go, at a fast food restaurant, and you might find yourself with a bag containing another bag which holds your beverage. Purchase a single item at a convenience store, and you will be offered a bag. Some people collect brand-name bags for reuse as posh purses.

One exception to this bag-centric culture is tape. Japanese stores use tape to seal the bag, either by binding the handles or taping the top of the bag shut. While the tape does help prevent the bag from reopening, it also serves as a useful proof of purchase.

Good to go: This yogurt has been paid for.

Taped and good-to-go yogurt

When you purchase a single item at a convenience store in Japan, you may be offered a bag, but depending on the item, the clerk may ask, “Is just tape OK?” If you decline a bag, the staff will instead adhere a small piece of tape to the product to signal that you have followed the laws of capitalism and provided the proper amount of currency in exchange for the item.

You can do your part by asking for tape. If you have space in your backpack or handbag, practice using the phrase “Sono mama de ii desu” (“It’s fine like that.”) Alternatives would be “Tape/shiiru de ii desu” (Just tape/a sticker is fine”). Each time you use one of these phrases, you’ll be avoiding excess use of plastic. On the other hand, the bags are reusable as trash bags. That is, if you live in a municipality that doesn’t have special bags that are used to throw out different types of trash.

Do they use tape as proof of purchase where you live? Do you know of any other interesting receipt replacements? Let us know.

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