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Japan Airlines finally starts online sales of in-flight meals

TOKYO -- After half a year in development, Japan Airlines Co. (JAL) has followed its rivals into the lucrative in-flight meals market by launching its own online store on July 21.

    Japan Airlines Co. employees show in-flight meals the company has launched for online sale, in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on July 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

    A Japan Airlines Co. employee shows an in-flight meal the company has launched for online sale, in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward on July 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

    Demand for the food has only grown amid protracted foreign travel restrictions brought by the coronavirus pandemic. All Nippon Airways Co. (ANA) was the first to recognize the potential market, and have sold a total of 790,000 meals. One after another, in-flight meal manufacturers have followed the trend.

    This photo provided by All Nippon Airways Co. shows the company's "Child Meal" set consisting of three cute-looking dishes.

    Despite its late entry, JAL is confident. A representative said: "We took six months to develop them, and repeated trial productions dozens of times. We can bring enjoyment and happiness to our customers."

    JAL's products are based on in-flight meals previously popular on international routes. Because onboard meals are usually heated slowly using steam ovens, JAL has arranged the new offer's ingredients creatively and increased the rice's water content so that they can be enjoyed after warming up in household microwaves.

    "We did many tests to ensure that ingredients' texture and moisture content are retained even after heating," a representative said. "We heard from many people saying they wanted to eat JAL's in-flight meals, and we wanted to start selling them this past spring at the latest. But it took time to develop ones that taste good, and it launched in time for summer vacation, when children spend longer at home."

    The first batch consists of six dishes. Three of the dishes -- pork cutlet on rice, ginger pork on rice, and fried chicken on rice -- were supervised by Masahiro Kasahara, owner and chef at the popular Sanpi-Ryoron Japanese restaurant in Tokyo's Ebisu district. The other three -- white curry and rice, pork cutlet on rice stir-fried with butter, and grilled pork on rice -- are local specialties in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture. Twelve meals cost 9,790 yen (about $90), whereas six meals are 5,890 yen (about $53), including shipping, and all come with packs of instant consomme beef soup. JAL plans to launch a second menu in early August.

    JAL named the meals "Bistro de Sky," because "it reminds people of the taste of JAL, and creates familiarity." Since 1992, the company has served cup noodles such as udon and soba under the "de Sky" brand.

    Rival ANA's in-flight meals have been popular since their December 2020 launch, and the company has begun a July campaign called "meat thanksgiving," which includes packs of three kinds of meals: Hamburg steak and rice, chicken cutlet curry and rice, and youlinji Chinese-style fried chicken with rice. Its summer-vacation edition "Child Meal" set consists of three cute-looking dishes.

    (Japanese original by Tadakazu Nakamura, Narita Bureau)

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