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News Navigator: Why are Japan supermarket sales brisk amid the coronavirus pandemic?

A Seiyu supermarket is seen in this photo taken in Tokyo's Toshima Ward on April 21, 2020. The store run by the major supermarket chain was crowded while other shops in the nearby commercial area refrained from business to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the brisk sales of supermarkets in Japan amid the coronavirus pandemic, while many other businesses are suffering a severe downturn in sales.

    Question: I've heard that supermarkets in Japan are enjoying an uptick in sales lately. Why is that happening?

    Answer: Since February, when the new coronavirus began to spread in Japan, more and more companies have been adopting teleworking. As a result, sales at supermarkets have grown. People who had previously used restaurants and convenience stores near their workplaces started to shop at supermarkets close to their homes. According to one industry group, the sales turnover at supermarkets rose by 3.4% in June from the same month last year. Meanwhile, sales at convenience stores declined by 5.2% from a year earlier, suggesting that consumption has shifted to supermarkets.

    Q: What are popular items at supermarkets?

    A: People mainly buy food items and daily necessities. With the rising number of people working from home and spending more time with their children, there has been a growing demand for frozen food and packaged noodles, which are easy to prepare, as well as flour for making pancakes. According to a survey company that analyzes customers' purchase history, the item that saw the highest sales growth in June at a supermarket that primarily sells food items was masks. As the circulation of masks gradually grew, the store sold 21 times the number of masks compared to June last year.

    Q: Are all types of supermarkets enjoying strong sales now?

    A: No. While sales at food supermarkets are brisk, general supermarkets that also offer clothing items, furniture and other items are facing an uphill battle. As authorities requested people to refrain from making nonurgent and nonessential outings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the sales of clothing items were sluggish between March and June, and even plummeted by 53% in April from a year before due to the state of emergency declared by the government over the coronavirus that same month.

    Q: What will become of sales at supermarkets in the future?

    A: Due to a recent surge in coronavirus infections again in Japan, there is also a resurgence in the number of people working from home. The so-called "stay-at-home consumption," in which people tend to buy various items on the premise that they spend most of their time at home, is expected to continue for the time being. Such a trend will likely allow food supermarkets to continue enjoying steady performances.

    (Japanese original by Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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