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Food & Beverage

Ito En uses tea leaves to brew up antimicrobial vending machines

Company hopes to snag demand from germophobic beverage sippers

The buttons and bill insertion slot are protected by the natural antimicrobial substance. (Photo courtesy of Ito En)

TOKYO -- Ito En is protecting frequently touched areas of its tea vending machines with an ingredient of the very product they sell, aiming to offer germ-fearing customers a safer alternative to buying beverages face to face.

A sheet embedded with used tea leaves will be attached to the buttons, the bill insertion slot and the product retrieval opening. Catechins, found in tea leaves, are said to have an antibacterial effect. The Tokyo company behind the Oi Ocha tea brand plans to add the feature to about 30,000 of its 160,000 vending machines in Japan this fiscal year.

With the nation's COVID-19 state of emergency over, people are starting to venture outside again. "Appreciation will grow that vending machines let people buy beverages without direct contact with others," an Ito En representative said. Plans are to initially add the antibacterial measure in such settings as hospitals and nursing homes.

Some Ito En machines had already used tea-leaf-derived sheet, but only to keep the machine from overheating.

Soft-drink shipments dropped 19% on the year in April as people stayed home under the state of emergency, according to beverage-industry research firm Inryou Souken. Shipments for vending machines tumbled 33% as demand plunged at office buildings and tourist spots.

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