Photo/Illutration Food items with imperfections delivered from are available at the Shunpachi Seikaten vegetable and fruit shop. (Ikuya Tanaka)

Millions of tons of foodstuffs, most of it still perfectly edible, needlessly goes to waste in Japan each year. Out of this has grown a business to buy up unsold foodstuffs for resale online and through other venues at sharply reduced prices.

Not only is there a ready market for these discounted food products, it also is making a major dent on the volume of food that gets tossed away.

Businesses have adopted all sorts of tactics to make use of food items with "imperfections," such as working closely with municipalities around the nation and building sales networks by connecting consumers with producers via shopping sites or apps.

An outlet of the Shunpachi Seikaten fruit and vegetable shop chain in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward put up a poster stating, “We are doing what we can to lessen food losses.”

Fruit and veg items that would likely otherwise go unsold are being used to create natural drinks and soups. The idea is to generate as little waste as possible. Olive oil and other processed goods whose shelf life expiry dates are looming will be offered by the store., a membership shopping site that opened in Shinagawa Ward in 2015, delivers food products that ordinary retailers won't handle due to damaged packages and soon-to-expire shelf life to its 80,000 members at below normal retail prices. Six hundred food makers and other firms are participating in the venture.

Complicating the issue of food waste in Japan is a peculiar “one-third” rule in the food industry: Items with a six-month shelf life from the day of production have to be withdrawn from store shelves two months earlier than their best-before dates.

Tatsuya Sekito, president of, said manufacturers have no choice but to discard foodstuffs returned from retailers because “selling them at a discount could hurt their brand images.”

To address the situation, buys up returned items so its members can order them online at reduced prices, thereby cutting down on the volume of food waste. is currently working to strengthen its ties with Shunpachi Seikaten and other outlets through direct deliveries of "recovered" food products rather than rely on its website. It is also moving to build stronger relations with local governments to cut down on food waste.

In February, it announced plans to cooperate with Yokohama city to help food businesses in the municipality slash their losses. also is toying with other ideas, such as adding a food bank operator there to its donation list.

We intend to further expand our network that has developed over the past five years,” Sekito said.


Based in the capital’s Minato Ward, CoCooking introduced a smartphone app called Tabete to provide an online solution to produce the least food waste.

It said 500 restaurants and other entities had joined the program since the service started in spring 2018.

Takara, a yakitori joint in Shinagawa Ward, is one of those eateries. It said customer numbers have dropped by 70 percent compared with last year due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Although Takara buys a smaller amount of ingredients from chicken-producing areas in the Kyushu region and elsewhere, it is difficult to eliminate all food losses.

We must prepare various parts of chicken to respond quickly to customers’ orders,” noted Ken Hirota, manager of the restaurant.

Kazuma Kawagoe, president of CoCooking, said many eatery operators like Hirota are loath to discard perfectly edible food items they had already purchased because they knew all-too-well how carefully the ingredients were grown by producers.

Kawagoe said that far more ingredients are now on sale on Tabete than before.

This has triggered a heightened awareness of food loss among consumers, which has led to more than 200,000 members using the app to buy unsold materials.

CoCooking is also trying to link shops and stores with consumers.

As part of those efforts, CoCooking bought up unsold bread and boxed meals from outlets operating in the JR Tokyo Station complex. This allowed Tabete staff to sell them on a trial basis to those working at the station in January and February.

The project resulted in cutting food losses of six participating stores by more than 1 ton in a single month.

The combination of the app and sales at actual stores will result in slashed food losses,” said Kawagoe, expressing his high expectations for the new endeavor.

According to an estimate by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 6.43 million tons of food was discarded in fiscal 2016 that had either not been consumed, remained unsold or was returned.

Fruit and vegetables not shipped from farmers are excluded from the annual food waste tally. This presents another problem: How to deliver those foodstuffs to consumers.

Refrigerating machine trading house DayBreak Co. in Shinagawa Ward is involved in a business to buy up farm produce that does not meet industry standards and market them as frozen fruits.

It also purchases fruit damaged in typhoons. For example, it bought up apples from farmers in Nagano Prefecture and Watson pomelos and “hassaku” oranges from Chiba Prefecture last autumn for sale.