Food retail during the COVID-19 pandemic in Japan

Authors: Benjamin Schrager*, Kyoto University Graduate School of Agriculture
Topics: Food Systems, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Covid-19, food, retail
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Critical food scholars have long recognized the role of retail and the influence of corporate actors such as supermarket chains in reshaping food systems. Drawing from a series of semi-structured interviews with key actors in the retail sector of Japanese food systems, this presentation explores the central role of retail in analyzing the impact of the pandemic on food systems in Japan. In general, tourism is down and so too is the consumption of expensive foods like artisan wagyu beef. Consumers eat out less and eat more food at home. As a result, restaurant sales are down and supermarket sales are up. Unlike countries such as the US that saw a surge of interest in alternative food, alternative food producers in Japan generally describe little change in demand while alternative retailers experienced surges similar to that of conventional food. The biggest retail increases are in home delivery services and online platforms that connect agricultural producers with consumers. Unlike the broader questioning of the food system that occurred in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima triple disaster, COVID-19 raises practical considerations about which retail mechanisms best fit the conditions accompanying the pandemic. Although laden with changes, challenges, and opportunities, I suggest that the pandemic’s impact is best understood as the latest wrinkle in longstanding issues facing Japanese food systems.

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