A New Initiative to Reduce Food Loss in Commercial Facilities

Food loss is a common issue around the world, with every country taking unique measures to deal with it. "Community fridges," where everyone is free to share their leftover food and ingredients, are one initiative originating from Europe and the United States. Some have also already begun operating in Japan. A variety of other initiatives are likewise being implemented, including the introduction of a food-sharing service for customers and employees at a commercial facility in Tokyo.
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Food Loss Initiatives in Tokyo, a City of Mass Consumption

An estimated 1.3 billion tons of food loss are generated worldwide each year. Taking a look at Japan, it is estimated that food-derived waste amounts to 25.5 million tons annually, and the amount of food loss, which is food that could normally be eaten but is discarded, amounts to 6.12 million tons (Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and Ministry of the Environment, "Utilization of Food Loss and Waste, etc. (FY 2017 Estimates)"). Unfortunately, this volume of food loss is said to be equivalent to the amount of food consumed by Tokyo's roughly 14 million residents each year.

For that reason, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has begun various initiatives to achieve net zero food loss by 2050. In FY2018, TMG conducted a proof-of-concept experiment related to demand forecasting in collaboration with the Japan Weather Association. The initiative aimed to build a demand forecast model using weather data, POS data, and AI technology, and to share this information throughout the supply chain to avoid overproduction.

Efforts are being ramped up not just by TMG but by corporations as well. At the massive Tokyo Station terminal, one company has taken a slightly different approach to food loss.

TABETE Rescue Deli, a New Measure Against Food Loss

JR Tokyo Station, which could be called the face of Tokyo, is home to GRANSTA TOKYO, JR East's largest Ekinaka in-station commercial facility. GRANSTA has gradually expanded since opening in 2007, growing to cover an area of about 11,300 square meters with the total number of stores across Tokyo Station's first floor and first basement floor rising to over 150.

As the facility has grown at a dizzying pace, the problem of food loss has also become increasingly serious. The J Bio Food Recycle system was originally employed at Tokyo Station to recycle 100% of the waste from their facilities and turn it into renewable energy.

In addition to this, JR East Cross Station Co., Ltd., who operate GRANSTA TOKYO decided to work out a food loss policy to further reduce food loss in collaboration with JR East Start UP Co., Ltd., a JR East group company, and CoCooking Co., Ltd., who operate the food sharing service TABETE.

The two methods they came up with were introducing the TABETE service within stores, and the TABETE Rescue Deli, which sells unsold food to employees at the station and other facilities. In fact, there are as many as 8,400 people who work at Tokyo Station, with a significant number of those individuals involved in night shift operations. In a survey conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was found that workers have trouble finding food to eat during the night shift. In order to solve this problem, three food loss countermeasure proof-of-concept experiments were conducted that were geared toward employees at the station and other facilities.

An assortment of products that had not yet reached their expiration date were put together after stores had closed and were sold in sets of three for 300 yen and five for 500 yen.

While both the periods that the TABETE Rescue Deli proof-of-concept experiments were held for and the timings varied, they succeeded in reducing food loss by approximately 4.3 tons over a total of 177 days. That volume is equivalent to about 10% of GRANSTA's food loss per month.

Adachi Kaito from JR East Cross Station's Development Company Sales Department says, "The results of the experiments were highly satisfying, reducing the time and cost of disposing food waste for the stores that introduced the system and raising awareness of food loss among station employees."

The TABETE Rescue Deli in operation in the GRANSTA employee break room.

Loss-Free Food Cycle: A Challenge for the Future

The TABETE Rescue Deli's full-scale operations started from March 2021. This initiative has made apparent the importance of measures against food loss, but as Adachi points out, "In the future, I think we'll also need to focus our efforts on marketing to prevent food loss, make the right number of products, and strive to have them sell out."

In fact, the media is increasingly covering this food loss issue, and food loss initiatives are also gradually spreading across the city.

However, making progress with food loss initiatives alone is unlikely to lead to fundamental solutions. "To be honest, it's difficult to sell out products. That's because both the number of customers and products sold vary depending on the weather, nearby events going on, train schedules, and long holiday stretches. We would need to take into account composite elements like these and decide on a number of products to sell," Adachi also concedes.

Food loss issues have now brought to light the problem of overproduction. Tokyo, a city of mass consumption, is likely about to enter into the next phase of tackling the issue, using a demand forecasting model composed of weather, POS, and other data like the one described above in order to create a system for preventing food loss.

Interview and writing by Abe Kimiko
Photos courtesy of JR East Cross Station, Co., Ltd.
Translation by Amitt