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Gyoza dumpling vending machines boost business for Japanese firm hit by pandemic

A vending machine that sells dumplings 24 hours a day is pictured in Chiba's Hanamigawa Ward on Aug. 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Naganuma)
Showa President Yoshiharu Takahashi is pictured in Chiba's Hanamigawa Ward on Aug. 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Naganuma)

CHIBA -- One major producer of gyoza dumplings here that saw its income dive after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has started selling its delectable edibles through vending machines.

    Dumpling manufacturer Showa, based in this city east of Tokyo, supplies its gyoza to some 1,000 locations across Japan, from ramen shops to Chinese restaurants and hotels. It also sells the dumplings at its factory shop and over the internet, with the firm's 67-year-old president, Yoshiharu Takahashi, saying he wants people to enjoy a "professional flavor" at home.

    However, when Japan's first coronavirus state of emergency was declared in April 2020, restaurants were forced to suspend operations or reduce their hours, which had a knock-on effect on Showa's production line. Showa saw its sales plunge by about 30%. To offset the losses, it refocused on marketing its products to supermarkets and direct sales outlets. Then, in June 2021, it began putting its products in dumpling vending machines -- a rarity in Chiba Prefecture -- allowing Showa to keep sales going around the clock.

    The vending machines have been set up in five locations, mostly in the prefecture, including at the firm's head office, and it is considering more. The menu changes depending on the season, with three types of frozen uncooked gyoza on offer. The machines apparently have a good reputation, with buyers saying they can make purchases even on holidays or late at night.

    Takahashi worked in the food industry for nearly 20 years after graduating from high school. He recalls seeing restaurant owners making gyoza one by one from early in the morning. Instilled in his business, which produces some 100,000 gyoza per day, is the hope that it can take that load off those owners' shoulders by delivering delicious gyoza to them.

    The production methods of dumplings and the thickness of their wrappers are changed to match the recipes of restaurants, and the company produces more than 90 varieties of gyoza in total. They include dumplings with choice ingredients and seasonings from within the prefecture and elsewhere, and Takahashi is confident that once someone tries his dumplings, it will be hard to go back to anything else.

    Reflecting on the drawn-out coronavirus pandemic, Takahashi commented, "It may become normal to buy delicious meals through vending machines. The restaurant industry has lost vitality due to COVID-19, but we want to keep at it and stay undefeated with the gyoza we're proud of."

    (Japanese original by Tatsuya Naganuma, Chiba Bureau)

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