(MENAFN- The Peninsula) Bloomberg
Japan's ailing vending machine industry is looking to indulgences like caviar and fresh sashimi to stymie its decades-long decline.
Aided by the pandemic push for minimizing contact with others, food-dispensing machines have emerged as a rare spark of growth for the sector. The offerings are far more exclusive than packaged snacks like chips and chocolate, though: the high-tech machines, which stand about 6-feet tall, allow customers to buy frozen and chilled versions of their favorite dishes from Michelin Guide-listed soup noodles to sashimi, wagyu steak and even caviar.
“It was really attractive for consumers that they can easily cook to eat restaurant quality food at home,” said Tomonori Yoshida, head of product development at Sanden Retail Systems, a refrigeration specialist that was the first in Japan to roll out the new kind of vending machine.“The way it's used has become so versatile, we can't even keep up.”
The company, which started producing refrigerated cases in the 1950s, launched a machine that dispensed frozen food in January 2021, just as Covid meant many Japanese preferred to steer clear of human interaction and businesses were advised to reduce their operating hours. Sales boomed, reaching 6,000 units by December 2022, according to Sanden, which says its machines have adjustable shelves to accommodate different container shapes and offers a model that can switch between frozen and chilled temperatures.
Japan has embraced vending machines like few other nations and they offer everything from cold soft drinks to hot coffee, snacks, toys and tobacco - typically for low prices. Their popularity took off when Coca-Cola made a full-scale entry into the country in the 1960s, and was further bolstered by technical innovations, a low crime rate and mass circulation of ¥100 coins, which allowed for easy purchases, according to the vending machine association.
Beverages dominate the sector, accounting for more than half of Japan's 4 million vending machines, according to the Japan Vending System Manufacturers' Association.
The popularity of the fresh-made meals have the potential to breathe life into the industry. Even though food is still a minor sector.
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