Saturday, December 4, 2021

Japanese companies go high-tech to reduce mountains of food waste

Japan has the highest food waste per capita in Asia, and now the Japanese government has enacted a new law to reduce it.

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Disposing of Japan’s more than six million tonnes of food waste costs the world’s third largest economy around two trillion yen (US$19 billion) a year, government data shows.

With the highest food waste per capita in Asia, the Japanese government has enacted a new law to halve those costs by 2030 and is pushing companies to find solutions.

In order to do so, Japanese companies are increasing the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and other advanced technology to reduce waste and cut costs in the pandemic.

Lawson convenience store franchisees spend more on disposing of food waste than anything else except labour costs. Now Lawson has started using AI from US firm DataRobot, which estimates how much food on shelves may go unsold or fall short of demand. Lawson aims to bring down overstock by 30% in places where the technology is being rolled out.

Drinks maker Suntory is experimenting with an AI product from Fujitsu to try to accurately determine if goods such as bottles of oolong tea and mineral water have been damaged in shipping, so reducing the return of goods by 30%-50%.

Japan’s notoriously fussy shoppers are showing signs of getting on board, especially as the coronavirus pandemic hits incomes.

Tatsuya Sekito runs Kuradashi, an e-commerce firm dealing in unsold foods at a discount. His online business is now thriving due partly to a jump in demand for low-priced unsold food items as consumers have become more cost conscious in the pandemic.

“Japanese shoppers tend to be picky, but we attract customers by offering not just a sale but a chance to donate a portion of purchases to a charity, and raising awareness about social issues,” Sekito told Reuters.

Tech firms have joined forces with food firms in developing new platforms to cut food waste as part of global efforts to meet sustainable development goals.

NEC Corp is using AI that not only analyses data such as weather, seasons, and customer trends in estimating demand but also gives reasoning behind its analysis.

NEC has deployed the technology to some major retailers and food makers, helping them reduce costs by 15%-75%. It hopes to share and process data through a common platform among manufacturers, transporters and retailers.

“Reducing food waste is not our ultimate goal,” said Ryoichi Morita, senior manager overseeing NEC’s digital integration. “Eventually, we hope it can lead to resolve other business challenges such as minimising costs, fixing labour shortages, and streamlining inventory, orders and logistics.”

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