Japanese food companies join forces to reduce waste amid consumer concerns

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One such concern is the festive ehomaki sushi roll, which is popular for consumption in February, the last day of winter. Eating the whole roll as a whole in silence is traditionally believed to bring good luck for the whole year.

As such, many food companies and retailers nationwide have produced and marketed ehomaki over the years, but the uncontrolled amount of production has unfortunately resulted in large amounts of food wastage, first revealed by consumers noticing that many of these scrolls were neither purchased nor consumed.

“The seasonal issue of food waste due to the elimination of Ehomaki after Setsubun (the last day of winter) has become a hotly discussed topic on social media in recent years, [which has led the ministry] host an annual meeting [movement] to reduce this waste,Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) said in an official statement.

“As part of this, initiatives such as managing retail through pre-order sales and transporting products to the most popular points of sale, as well as adjusting the sizes of the rolls of ehomaki sold have been gradually implemented this year.

“This movement has been in place since 2019, and our latest survey results show that since then, approximately 90% of food companies and retailers participating in this movement have seen improvements in reduced disposal quantities of ehomaki, 31% of them seeing more than 60% reduction in food waste.

Food industry participants in this program must register with MAFF for the ministry to carry out supervision and organization at the national level, particularly in terms of ehomaki ‘quotas’, and in February 2022 , the ministry’s slate included 77 participants, including grocery and retail. industry names such as Iko-Yokado, Aoki Super and Lawson.

“All of these efforts are in line with the Japanese Food Loss and Waste Reduction Promotion Act. [established back in 2020] and we will continue to work to further reduce food waste and loss in this sector,”says MAFF.

High technology to reduce food waste

After the Food Loss and Waste Reduction Promotion Act was created in March 2020, many local businesses turned to technology to help the waste reduction effort, such as Lawson, who implemented uses AI to manage its inventory and storage needs.

Lawson has set a national goal to reduce its overstocking by 30%, among which reducing food waste is a top priority, as eliminating it has been reported by the company as its second highest cost. after labor costs.

Beverage giant Suntory has also turned to AI to reduce waste in its manufacturing, especially when it comes to avoiding food (or in this case beverage) loss due to Disposal of Products Returned for Undetected Damage.

“It can take a long time to check drinks bottles for damage during shipping – AI Technology [can help to hasten this process and] should help us reduce product returns by up to 50%, helping to reduce food waste,”the firm said in a public statement.

The company’s beer arm also recently announced the implementation of an AI anomaly detection system in its new can filling line as part of its Kyoto-based natural water beer plan.

This new detection system is expected to start later this year and will replace data from traditional equipment sensors used for surveillance that require human interpretation. Using AI, the new system will be triggered in the event of an anomaly to allow Suntory personnel to address potential errors and damages at an early stage in production.

Upcycling to reduce food waste

In addition, some local Japanese food companies have turned to the concept of upcycling to reduce food waste generated by the production of their traditional products. One such example is the shrimp cracker company Keishindo, which has over 150 years of history but has only recently turned to making recycled products.

“We are best known for our Sugata-yaki (shrimp crackers made from live Japanese tiger shrimp or sweet shrimp caught in Japan, filleted and grilled on hot plates to retain the original shape of the shrimp) and Aburi-yaki (made from chopped shrimp mixed with flour and starch, then grilled and baked on baking sheets)”,Keishindo Executive General Manager Yuji Mitsuda told us.

“More recently, we also developed our sustainable shrimp crackers made from recycled ingredients in collaboration with the Nagoya curry udon Wakashachi-ya restaurant chain and local students studying the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“For these, we prepare the cracker batter with the sweet shrimp heads not used in our regular production of shrimp crackers, and the leftover udon noodles not used in the regular production of Wakashachi-ya noodles, then the let’s cook on a griddle to make a curry prawn cracker.

According to Mitsuda, the recycled food industry in Japan is focusing more on selling products close to their expiration date, even at lower prices, to avoid excessive food waste, especially when it comes to snacks and snacks. confectionery, but so far high-priced, value-added recycled products like Sustainable Shrimp Crackers are still rare.

“That said, little by little, snack and confectionery manufacturers are starting to make products with the UN SDGs as a keyword,”he added.

“The bottom line for food products is that they have to taste good – otherwise, no matter how good they are for the environment and how much food waste they can avoid, they won’t won’t sell.”

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