Cloudy with a chance of reduced tofu consumption
TOKYO -- Japan will this fiscal year begin testing a new system designed to cut food waste by 30-40% through weather-based demand projections.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will conduct nationwide trials in cooperation with convenience store chain Lawson, food manufacturer Mizkan and other companies.
The ministry believes manufacturers and distributors will be able to trim food waste by sharing demand projections with each other in real time and keeping production and inventory levels to a minimum.
Also slated to participate in the test are Sagamiya Foods and Kokubu. Sagamiya Foods is a major tofu maker based in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, while Kokubu specializes in wholesaling.
The food items to be covered by the test will include tofu, bread, milk, beer, coffee and mentsuyu noodle soup base. Demand for such products will be forecast based on weather data supplied by the Japan Weather Association.
What's hot, what's not
Under the new system, for example, if the weather forecast says it will be extremely hot tomorrow, manufacturers will increase production and inventory levels of beer and hiyayakko chilled tofu today in anticipation of higher demand.
Conversely, if the forecast calls for cool temperatures tomorrow, manufacturers will cut production and inventory levels of such products, reducing the amount of potential waste.
Major convenience store chains such as Lawson already make similar demand forecasts on their own. But manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and agricultural companies do not share their forecasts, resulting in sizable losses from excess inventories in the distribution process.
The ministry already estimates fluctuations in demand for some products based on weather information in the Kanto region, which comprises Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures, in cooperation with the Japan Weather Association and other organizations.
According to the ministry, estimates show it is possible to cut food waste by 30% for tofu and by 40% for mentsuyu soup base for hiyashi chuka cold noodles.
In addition to weather data, the demand forecasts will also factor in such information as the number of store visitors, the day of the week and special sales.
One aim of the test is to make demand forecasts more accurate by sharing more information among all the players involved. As much as 17 million tons of food waste is generated in Japan annually.
After the trials are complete, the ministry will promote the use of the system in the Japanese food industry. The government also plans to promote use of the system in other sectors whose sales are influenced by the weather, such as the air-conditioner and health care-related industries.