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Seminar Report: Some Thoughts on “Retailing Without Waste” in Kyoto. (Part 4)

By Murr-ma

Panel Discussion

The second half of the seminar was titled "Panel Discussion between Buyers and Sellers," and three other Kyoto City businesses joined the session with Umeda-san from TOTOYA.

What can we all learn and make use of, from TOTOYA’s experiences as a retail shop?

We considered this question, based on actual examples from each of the stores.

Panelist Introductions

Kosuke Hashimoto (Store Manager, HELP Ichijoji Store, HELP Inc.)

HELP is an organic supermarket with three locations in Kyoto. Since the first store opened in 1982, the company has focused on environmental issues, and is committed to widening its reach and bringing more organic products to more customers.

Regarding the issue of waste, as far back as 2006, the company has promoted the idea of charging for plastic bags. However, Hashimoto-san admitted that that is where their efforts stopped. He confided that, “In retailing, we have felt bound by the stereotype that this is what customers want.” He was greatly impressed by Umeda-san’s presentation, which he said had encouraged him to try to find more ways to continue this work.

Kohei Kusumoto (President of Kitayama NANZAN)

A yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant established in 1971, NANZAN is difficult to describe in just a few words. In addition to offering sustainably raised meat for yakiniku and meat sales, when the Corona situation started, the company also opened a grocery store selling prepared foods and other items. They also operate a nursery school focusing on nutrition education.

In addition, NANZAN sells meat wholesale to TOTOYA. Kusumoto-san mentioned that, “Meeting with TOTOYA made me really think about how much waste we produce every day. We decided to try to do better, starting with reducing plastic waste. We now sell our products by weight in our basement grocery store. We no longer hand our customers the fresh meat wrapped in plastic, and use paper instead.” In response to Umeda-san's talk, Kusumoto-san expressed his further motivation to do even more. He is interested, for example, in devising better display labels.

Rumi Akatsuka (Natural foods DONGURI, and Kurun Kyoto member)

Natural foods DONGURI was established in 1987, and sells a variety of organic vegetables, natural foods, and daily necessities, all friendly to people and the environment. Nonetheless, Akatsuka-san, who is also a Kurun Kyoto member, is well aware of how much waste DONGURI generates. Their firm goal is to create a more environmentally friendly sales floor by, for example, selling products by weight. However, that idea has unfortunately not yet caught on with many of DONGURI’s customers. Akatsuka-san is committed to communicating to shoppers the importance of reducing waste.

Fumie Sato (Writer, editor & Kurun Kyoto member)

Sato-san participated as a representative for the voice of consumers. As shoppers themselves, various Kurun Kyoto members shared their own questions and concerns with the panelists.

Question: What can we all do to reduce garbage?


Sato (Kurun Kyoto): This is how produce is typically displayed, open and unpackaged, at an ordinary supermarket in Hawaii.

Sato: In Japan, on the other hand, most vegetables are wrapped in plastic.

Sato: I feel that we consumers tend to think of packaging materials as having no cost. However, when I looked into it, I found that vegetable bags (anti-fogging OPP bags, made by Shimojima) cost about 5 yen. That is more expensive than the plastic bags you can usually get at the register. The unit price for styrofoam trays is also higher than I imagined. I was surprised, for example, to find that the price of a simple tray, when printed with a wood grain, can go up by as much as 5 yen!

If stores were to display the price of these packaging materials, and offer other options, consumer behavior might eventually change, don't you think?

Could any of you tell us more about how your stores are thinking about this issue?

Hashimoto: At HELP, when it is possible to display produce without packaging, we try to do so.

Hashimoto: However, with many vegetables, we need to align our displays with what people are used to seeing in big supermarkets.

Hashimoto: We have been selling eggs package-free for almost 20 years. About 60,000 eggs are sold this way annually and, according to our data, about 30% of the 70,000 or so people who buy eggs from us (roughly 21,000 shoppers) buy them in bulk. And my sense is that this percentage is gradually increasing.

Hashimoto: Also, for some of our products, we have been able to exchange foam trays for paper ones that can be recycled as paper. That might seem like a very small change, but this has resulted in a reduction of about 960 kg of plastic per year.

Hashimoto: Additionally, out on the sales floor, we are reusing discarded wine boxes for our displays. And in back of the store, too, while we are not quite able to keep up with TOTOYA, we are thoroughly separating all our trash.

Sato: Does TOTOYA have any comment on this?

Umeda (TOTOYA): Many people who buy organic products here in Japan seem resistant to package-free options. My sense is that they want their purchases wrapped because of the expense. The image of organics here in Japan is similar to America. Many people are buying organic products primarily out of concern for their own health. In Europe, on the other hand, consumers see themselves as socially conscious, or earth-friendly. Shoppers are thinking about the importance of preserving the richness of the soil.

This difference may be a stumbling block, in terms of Japanese organic products. And this is probably one of the obstacles that HELP is bumping up against. Customers need to be helped to understand that we are promoting organic products, not only for personal health, but also because everything is part of a cycle. If they see the need to reduce waste as being part of that cycle, I think they will begin to support package-free products.

Sato: Considering HELP’s situation, I have heard from other shoppers who report that they avoid buying products specifically because they are over-packaged. But I am not certain that those people’s voices are being heard. The number of people who feel this way is bound to increase. I would like it to be known that this is a choice that people can make, and are making, right now.

Kusumoto (NANZAN): In order to keep the food distribution system going even during the Corona disaster, NANZAN launched into grocery retailing. This was before we had ever heard of TOTOYA. At the time, it was clear that shoppers would happily buy packaged, prepared dishes if we carried them. Later, we started working with TOTOYA, and became aware of the waste problem. We are working on the challenge of getting customers to accept the idea of bringing their own containers.

Kusumoto: For the meat, we wanted to model ourselves on the image of an overseas butcher shop, so at first we sold the meat without any wrapping. However, the meat tended to change color quite rapidly over the course of the day, and eventually turned completely black. While that is considered normal overseas, here in Japan no one will want to touch meat in that condition. So we ended up with significant food loss, and I was very concerned. Eventually we switched back to displaying the meat in plastic wrapping. But we use paper when we actually pass it over the counter to customers.

Akatsuka (DONGURI): We have a small section with dry foods that we sell by weight, with little risk. However, really very few customers bring their own containers.

Akatsuka: We also deliver regular, weekly “vegetable sets.” If customers give their consent in advance, their vegetables go in the box either without any packaging at all, or we reuse or supply returnable bags.

These sets are probably DONGURI’s most successful effort, in terms of reducing plastic waste.

Akatsuka: Products sold in bags are just easier to handle, and more convenient. We haven’t been able to reconcile that reality with our desire to sell by weight, so currently we do both. Starting with the least risky items, we display various foods both open and packaged.

We price the packaged options slightly higher due to the cost of the bags. But that is a little confusing, so I’m going to communicate that information more clearly.

Akatsuka: We also sell detergents by weight. However, we still need to work on our setup. For now, customers still tend to choose the more convenient packaged varieties, but we are hoping to get more people buying by weight eventually.

Umeda: What if you raised the price of the packaged options by maybe 200 yen?

If they go for the packaged option the first time, but then bring it back and refill it again and again, then I think that is great.

If the price difference is significant, customers will feel like they are getting a good deal, and start bringing back their containers every time.

I am the kind of person who really dislikes hassle. So maybe at first, most people see buying in bulk as the hassle. But once we get used to life with less waste, the hassle becomes the drudgery of taking out the garbage. Once we realize that, we start wanting to reuse our containers.

If we can find ways to communicate that idea, that it is actually less hassle to bring your own containers, people will be much more open to doing so.

TOTOYA sometimes hosts trainees from other companies. They stay in an apartment with a kitchen for a month, shop at our store, and are able to experience a zero-waste lifestyle. We purposely create an environment where they can realize what a zero-waste lifestyle is like.

Akatsuka: I hope we can convey the message that, even if it might take a little more time and effort at the store, the payback is a more stress-free home.

Whenever the price of this detergent goes up, we have to explain to people who originally bought it, why it has become more expensive. At such times, we also encourage them to consider the benefits of a zero-waste lifestyle.

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