The emergence of frozen food vending machines across Japan raises hopes of a shrinking market

A vending machine selling frozen dishes of “mentaiko” spicy pollack eggs and “motsunabe” hot pot is seen in front of the bullet train boarding gate on the second floor of Hakata Station in Fukuoka city on July 16, 2022. (Mainichi/Toshiki Inoue)

FUKUOKA – Vending machines selling a variety of frozen dishes, including ramen noodles, seafood bowls, grilled eel and cakes, have recently increased across Japan, amid a declining market for the country’s iconic Automated Sellers.

Behind this craze is the “Dohiemon” frozen food vending machine, whose total shipments have reached 3,000 in about a year since its release in January 2021.

While Japan is known to have many vending machines, those selling drinks, which account for more than 50% of all vending machines, have been extensively installed in every possible corner, as claimed by some affiliate. Besides competition with convenience stores and other competitors, the industry is also struggling with a shortage of personnel capable of restocking products.

A vending machine selling frozen seafood bowls is seen in front of a ticket counter at Hakata Subway Station in the city of Fukuoka on July 16, 2022. (Mainichi/Toshiki Inoue)

Statistics from the Japan Vending System Manufacturers Association show that the number of vending machines, including those selling cigarettes, food and tickets, has increased from around 5.6 million in 2000 to around 4 million in 2021. A series of manufacturers have left the company since 2000, and only Sanden Retail Systems Corp. and Fuji Electric Co., both based in Tokyo, currently manufacture vending machines to sell drinks and food in Japan.

In such a context, Sanden, which also manages window displays for convenience stores, has focused its attention on the new area of ​​frozen meals for vending machines. In January 2021, it began selling Dohiemon, which was put in place before restaurants and other establishments affected by the pandemic were forced to close or reduce their hours of operation. Sales of freezer vending machines quickly took off.

Dohiemon machines accommodate products of various sizes, based on combinations of built-in partitions, and are capable of selling a wide range of products, including small candies and large bento boxes. The structure of the machines also makes it easier to refill products, unlike vending machines that sell drinks. According to Sanden, it had shipped a total of over 3,000 machines by the end of March this year. In February this year, Fuji Electric also started selling a freezer vending machine called “Frozen Station” and has shipped about 500 so far.

A vending machine selling frozen fried horse mackerel is seen in front of a ticket counter at Hakata subway station in Fukuoka city on July 16, 2022. (Mainichi/Toshiki Inoue)

The machines have been installed in commercial facilities, parking lots and on streets, as well as inside train stations, which many people use. In July 2021, Fukuoka City-based Yamaya Communications Inc., which makes Hakata’s specialty, “mentaiko” spicy pollack eggs, set up a vending machine selling frozen mentaiko meals and “motsunabe” hot pots. ” in front of the gates. leading to bullet trains at JR Hakata Station in the city. The company also installed one machine each on the Kagoshima line platform in June 2022 and the main passage inside the station in July this year.

A vending machine also appeared in metro stations across the city for the first time in July. Sanyo Co., a fishing company in Fukuoka, has set up vending machines selling frozen fried horse mackerel near the ticket gates of three stations, including Hakata Station. A representative expressed joy by saying, “One machine contains 60 products, but we cannot keep filling them due to unexpected good sales.

West Japan Railway Daily Service Net Co., which is responsible for projects inside JR West stations, has also expanded vending machine services, starting with Hyogo Prefecture’s Amagasaki Station, where it installed a gyoza dumpling machine.

Hitomi Haga, chief public relations representative at Sanden Retail Systems, said: “While the first driver was the coronavirus, machines are now spreading regardless of the pandemic.” She added confidently, “Freezer vending machines will continue to thrive.”

(Japanese original by Toshiki Inoue, Kyushu Photo Department)

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