Coronavirus: Japan’s Vending Machines Aren’t Pandemic-Proof

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  • Bloomberg QuickTake: Now published this video item, entitled “Coronavirus: Japan’s Vending Machines Aren’t Pandemic-Proof” – below is their description.

    Japan’s $44 billion vending machine industry is struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. The Covid-19 crisis appears to be accelerating their demise in Japan, where snack and beverage retailers pushed vending machines to new heights of ubiquity and creativity. The reason? Less foot traffic. Monthly sales volume of beverages across the nearly 3 million vending machines in Japan dropped more than 35% earlier this year, as people worked from home and stayed away from offices and dense city centers. It’s become clear that in the pandemic era, shopping has become more planned and deliberate — to the detriment of vendors that previously appealed to accessibility and impulse buying. Convenience stores offering a similar proposition of basic shopping at all hours have also seen sales falling every month since March. That’s forced Japan’s 4.6 trillion yen ($44 billion) vending machine industry to speed up its reinvention to secure a future in a post-pandemic world, or risk becoming a novelty vintage item. For the machines that don’t survive, a second act as reminders of a comforting past could await. The steady disappearance of the metal boxes has spawned a cottage industry in Japan: retro vending machine attractions. Yusuke Uotani, who runs an online directory of retro vending machine locations, said there are about 60 to 70 such collections scattered around the country. That was the case in the corner of a used-tire shop lot in Sagamihara, in Tokyo’s suburbs, where manager Tatsuhiro Saito turned his passion for collecting and repairing antique vending machines into a bustling side business. Almost 50 machines — some half a century old — stand side by side, attracting as many 1,000 people a day who come to peruse vending machines of an earlier era. The machines spit out warm hamburgers in boxes, bowls of hot soba or udon noodles, and snack foods. “When I was younger, there was a vending machine that sold hamburgers near where I lived. But those types of vending machines have nearly all disappeared,” Saito said. “The food isn’t the most delicious thing, but it’s nostalgic.”

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