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New airport vending machine in Kochi Pref. sells everything from local fruit to souvenirs

A vending machine selling konatsu citrus fruit, tomatoes, and young sardine tempura, among other seafood, is seen in Kochi Ryoma Airport in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture. (Mainichi)

KOCHI -- A vending machine containing seasonal produce as well as souvenirs of Kochi Prefecture has been set up at an airport in this western Japan prefecture as it searches for new ways to sell products amid the coronavirus pandemic.

    The vending machine stands in a boarding gate lounge at Kochi Ryoma Airport in Nankoku, Kochi Prefecture, which has been struggling with sales amid to the spread of the virus. The machine comprises two connected bodies, measuring 1.8 meters by 2.7 meters in total. It sells 48 items, including top-selling goods and popular souvenirs sold at Big Sun, a store inside the airport managed directly by the airport company.

    Besides sandwiches and other staple goods, the vending machine is stocked with tomatoes, konatsu citrus fruit, and other produce grown in the prefecture, which are now in season. It also offers unique products such as a meal package for raw egg on rice, which includes rice made in the prefecture, bonito flakes, and soy sauce enriched with broth. The machine also accepts electronic money and can scan QR codes for payment, and looks to gather a broad range of customers.

    It is apparently rare, even nationwide, for a vending machine selling souvenirs and agricultural produce to be established at an airport.

    According to Kochi Airport Terminal Building Co., the number of passengers at the airport has seen a dramatic decrease due to the coronavirus pandemic. Product sales for the previous fiscal year fell to about 30 to 40% of figures recorded prior to the pandemic. The new vending machine is aimed at streamlining store operations to decrease personnel expenses, while being part of a search for new ways to sell products.

    In addition to the vending machine, a touch screen has also been set up in the Big Sun store located in the departure lobby of the airport. People are able to view a list of popular souvenirs as well as recommended products on the 40-inch screen, and the airport plans to materialize the concept of serving customers without face-to-face encounters or direct contact.

    Hiroyuki Tadokoro, sales manager at Kochi Airport Terminal Building Co., commented, "Our concept is that a store can be run with just one vending machine. By viewing the establishment of this vending as the first step, we'd like to explore the ideal nature of airports amid the pandemic."

    (Japanese original by Yosuke Oyake, Kochi Bureau)

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