Convenience stores were the real winners of the Tokyo Olympics
The ability of athletes and the press covering the recent Olympic games in Tokyo to move around was restricted due to an outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the city. Those limitations did not extend, however, to local convenience stores, which proved to be an eye-opener for those visiting Japan for the first time.
Anyone who has ever been to the Asian nation knows that its 24-hour convenience stores, known as konbini (or conbini — an alternative spelling), are unlike anything found here in the U.S.
Andrew Keh, a sports reporter covering the games, wrote in a New York Times article, “We can’t traverse the galaxy of food outside the Olympic limits, but a conbini contains a culinary world unto itself, a bounty of bento boxes, fried meats, sushi, noodles galore and all manner of elaborate plastic-wrapped meals and rare snacks.”
CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux made a name for himself on Twitter and across social media as he discovered the inexpensive delights of shopping at konbini locations in Tokyo.
In a video posted on YouTube with snowboarder Craig McMorris, the two taste tested a variety of products purchased at a 7-Eleven, including Pocari Sweat, a sports drink, Boss canned coffee, salami chips, rice balls and chicken on a stick from a warmer in the store.
“Who needs a restaurant,” asked Mr. Heroux after tasting the chicken.
He finished off his taste test with a sweet red bean jelly confection, which he had been advised would be “a bit of an adventure.” Mr. Heroux said it was “just delightful.”
The adventures of sports reporters and others may have been a new experience for them but is part of everyday life in Japan where there are more than 50,000 konbini locations operating 24/7. The konbini is part of the national fabric with locations offering a variety of services that go beyond convenience foods, including pharmacies, clothing, financial services and train tickets.
7-Eleven, with its parent company based in Japan and with a rich konbini tradition, has often been thought of as a likely candidate to launch a similar concept in the U.S.
The convenience store giant, which has set 20,000 as its store count target in the U.S., has experimented in recent years with its Evolution store concept, which localizes foodservice and product selection while taking advantage of technological and operational enhancements.
- Cut off from restaurants, Tokyo’s visitors find culinary delights at 24-hour convenience stores. – The New York Times
- 7-Elevens could be destined to undergo a konbinification – RetailWire
- 7-Eleven Adventure in Tokyo – Twitter
- Canadians taste test Japanese snacks at Tokyo 2020 Olympics – YouTube
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What can the Japanese konbini teach U.S. convenience store retailers as well as those operating other food formats? Why hasn’t the konbini concept made its way to the U.S. in a big way and do you expect that to change in the years ahead?