TOKYO -- Soaring prices of fresh vegetables are driving Japan's grocery stores to bolster their ranges of frozen produce.
The Inageya supermarket chain has been marketing Peruvian asparagus and Chinese spinach, along with other imported frozen goods, at around 70 of its outlets.
The chain, which has a strong presence in the Tokyo metropolitan area, has also been pushing domestically produced frozen organic vegetables for which supplies can be unstable, such as spinach, edamame and komatsuna, or Japanese mustard spinach.
Having purchased frozen vegetables independently, it now "wants to maintain stable stock levels all year round" under a contract with a food trading company in Osaka.
Summit, another chain, is selling frozen Chinese-grown spinach and komatsuna in response to shortages of domestically produced frozen vegetables.
The higher prices of fresh produce have mainly been caused by low temperatures and other unfavorable weather conditions. A survey of supermarkets in Tokyo found that the price for spinach in February was about 200 yen ($1.89) per bunch and that of broccoli was between 246 yen and 298 yen each, 30% to 40% higher than last year.
The price for a 200 gram pack of frozen spinach, on the other hand, was around 200 yen, while 250 grams of frozen broccoli was priced between 191 yen and 196 yen, almost unchanged on the year.
Many stores are also positioning frozen vegetables more prominently alongside fresh goods rather than in a separate frozen products section.
About a year ago, the Life Corp. supermarket chain began trialing a display freezer for about 20 items like spinach, carrots and cabbage. Similar units have since been placed in 30 mainly new and renovated stores.
Inageya has also installed flat display freezers in the fruit and vegetable sections of two stores in the capital.
Frozen vegetable sales in February grew about 30% on the year at Life Corp. and Summit, and 10% at Inageya.
A Life Corp. official said that the convenience of frozen vegetables was making them increasingly popular, in addition to the surge in prices of fresh produce.
With the cost of fresh vegetables set to continue on an upward trend for a while, demand for frozen goods is likely to remain strong.