Photo/IllutrationA Seven-Eleven franchise in Higashi-Osaka that no longer is open 24 hours a day. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Staying true to the concept of "mottainai" (no waste), Seven-Eleven convenience stores in Japan will start offering points for purchasing items approaching their best-before date.

The discount program, to be launched in autumn, will make use of the nanaco electric money system employed by Seven & i Holdings Co. at its group companies, including the Seven-Eleven Japan Co. stores.

Customers who use the nanaco card to make purchases will accumulate points based on the purchase price.

Under the program, food products such as "onigiri" rice balls and "bento" boxed lunches produced for same-day consumption and facing a best-by time in four or five hours would effectively be sold at a discount, as 5 percent of the price would be returned as a premium to the customer.

About 500 items would be covered by the discount program.

Those who pay with cash or credit cards will not be eligible for the discount.

Seven-Eleven Japan plans to introduce the discount program, which is aimed at reducing the large volume of discarded food, at about 20,000 outlets.

Company officials said about 25 percent of Seven-Eleven customers use the nanaco card.

Another major convenience store chain, Lawson Inc., is planning to introduce a similar program on an experimental basis from June.

While Seven-Eleven Japan officials said they never restricted offering discounts on food products near their best-by time, franchise owners contend that the parent company has not promoted the idea, making it difficult for individual outlets to offer such discounts.

As a result, this has led many of those outlets to simply throw away food products past their best-by time. Moreover, the individual outlets have to shoulder most of the expenses associated with discarding expired food products.

Under the new program, the cost of the points returned to customers who buy discounted food products will be shouldered by the parent company. The program has already been tested at a number of directly operated outlets.

The Lawson trial will involve the Ponta and d-point cards that customers can use at Lawson outlets. Five percent of the purchase price will be returned to customers in the form of card points.

The trial, applying to products with a special seal attached, will be conducted at outlets in Ehime and Okinawa prefectures.

The discount program is the latest in a series of changes in the business model used at Japanese convenience stores. Difficulty in finding part-time workers for the graveyard shift has led some franchise owners of Seven-Eleven outlets to do away with the 24-hour operation pushed by the parent company.