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7-Eleven Japan to try reducing food waste by extending rice ball shelf life

A selection of onigiri rice balls sold at 7-Eleven convenience store outlets in Japan are seen in Tokyo on Dec. 28, 2020. (Mainichi/Hajime Nakatsugawa)
Seven-Eleven Japan Co. President Fumihiko Nagamatsu is seen in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 25, 2020. (Mainichi/Hajime Nakatsugawa)

TOKYO -- In a bid to reduce food waste, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. President Fumihiko Nagamatsu has said the company intends to increase the shelf life of its onigiri rice ball products by approximately twice their current limit.

    By doing so, stores could extend the time they leave rice balls up for sale from the current approximately 18-hour period to a limit of a day and a half to two days. From March 2021, the company intends to sequentially introduce products with later use-by dates.

    The plans came to light in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. Onigiri rice balls are seen as flagship products at convenience stores in Japan, and serve as the shops' face. At domestic 7-Eleven outlets, rice balls are limited to a shelf life of about 18 hours due to them not containing preservatives and to maintain their quality.

    On average, each branch of 7-Eleven sells an average of about 200 rice balls a day. In the event that poor weather leads to fewer customers, any remaining products no longer deemed fit to sell are disposed of. Nagamatsu said that by doubling the products' shelf life, the company is expecting rice ball waste to fall by about 50%.

    The company is currently investigating the possibility of avoiding using preservatives by putting nitrogen in the products' packaging to keep them fresh. Because the way rice balls are packaged varies depending on their type, as in the case of hand rolls, the company is running different retention tests for each product. Nagamatsu emphasized, "We want to start with products whose good flavors can be retained."

    Around 85% of products sold at 7-Eleven stores in Japan have a shelf life of a day or more, and the company has set a goal of having 90% of its goods reach the same longevity by February 2021. The company is hoping it can get close to 100% if it can extend the limits on onigiri rice balls. Nagamatsu said, "It's corporate responsibility to reduce food waste."

    (Japanese original by Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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