Photo/IllutrationA grocerant in the Aeon Style Umie commercial complex in Kobe’s Chuo Ward in late January (Ryuhei Tsutsui)

Shoppers in Japan are increasingly eating at “grocerants,” the in-store supermarket eateries that first appeared in the United States, which sell freshly cooked meals made with ingredients sold on the premises.

The fusion concept provides economies of scale by sharing food items among the grocery section and restaurant divisions of the same shops, while dishes served there are a notch above the boxed meals and ready-made food sold at ordinary supermarkets.

Grocery operators are currently making efforts to win over working people and singles who live alone by introducing the “evolved” version of the eat-in area across the nation.

Major supermarket operator Aeon Retail Co. opened the Aeon Style Umie commercial complex in Kobe’s Chuo Ward in July last year, which houses a restaurant area with 260 seats next to the food section on its first basement floor.

Around noon one day in late January, nearly all seats of the eat-in zone were filled by shoppers and workers.

Although the eatery area apparently resembles an ordinary food court or eat-in corner, one of the most popular dishes there features Australian beef steak from the company’s Topvalu brand that is available in the store’s meat section.

A freshly cooked 150-gram sirloin steak, along with soup, salad and rice, is priced at just 1,580 yen ($14.70), excluding tax, during lunch hours.

A male company employee, 43, ate the steak and expressed his satisfaction, saying, “A similar steak would cost several hundred yen more at other restaurants.”

Most foodstuffs used there are also sold in the store’s food aisles. As procurement costs can be cut, higher profitability can be achieved than in an ordinary food court featuring numerous different shops, according to Aeon officials.

Upscale supermarket operator Seijo Ishii Co. in September last year also opened a grocerant at the Trie Keio Chofu store in Chofu, Tokyo.

If shoppers find they like certain foodstuffs and seasonings after trying them at the grocerant, they can buy them to take home.

The grocerant was set up based on the idea from young employees with the hope of overcoming difficulties facing the firm, such as the increasing number of people opting to purchase food online.

Seijo Ishii sent seven young company employees to the United States in June last year to visit grocerants at the high-end Whole Foods Market and elsewhere.

Yaoko Co., which runs supermarkets in the Kanto region, renovated its store in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in March last year to introduce a grocerant that serves made-to-order bowl dishes and sandwiches.

Meanwhile, Seven & i Holdings Co. is working actively to introduce grocerants in its YorkMart and Ito-Yokado stores.

“There are fewer grocerant-equipped supermarkets in Japan than the United States,” said Ryuichi Isaka, president of Seven & i Holdings. “I want to achieve things other Japanese supermarket operators have yet to achieve.”

The main target of such grocerants is the increasing number of working women and unmarried customers who live alone, as demand for ready-made meals is growing especially among those individuals.

According to the Japan Ready-made Meal Association, the market for ready meals, such as boxed and precooked food at supermarkets and convenience stores, is expected to top 10 trillion yen in 2017 for the first time.

(This article was written by Ryuhei Tsutsui and Azusa Ushio.)