(THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - What do you get when you cross a grocery store with a restaurant? The answer, of course, is a “grocerant” - and what is more, they are sprouting up all over the place.
Specifically, grocerants operate in supermarkets, selling freshly cooked meals using the foods and ingredients that line the store’s shelves.
The word grocerant first appeared in the United States. The fact that people are able to sample dishes at them - and then make the exact same dishes at home using the same ingredients - has seen them grow in popularity.
At a grocerant in the Seijo Ishii Trie Keio Chofu supermarket in Tokyo, housewives and company employees in suits go one after another at lunch time.
The menu includes kuroge wagyu premium beef steak, pasta, curry and hamburgers. Ninety per cent of the ingredients in these dishes are sold at the supermarket and the menu is updated according to the season.
The grocerant purchases its ingredients and other foods together with the supermarket, and delicatessen staff in the supermarket are also tasked with some preparation for the grocerant’s meals. These measures reduce costs, allowing the grocerant to offer meals more cheaply than some conventional restaurants do. For example, a curry with mussels and 10 shrimp costs 990 yen (S$12), plus tax.
Leaflets with the recipes are provided to customers, who can then shop for the items at the supermarket. A man in his late 60s, who often uses the grocerant, said: “I feel like these meals are also food samples for a fee.”
The grocerant, introduced in September last year, is supermarket operator Seijo Ishii Co’s first. “We expect customers to eat at the grocerant, discover the excellent quality of the ingredients on our shelves and then buy them,” said Mr Takashi Igarashi, head of the company’s corporate communications office.
The bread used for the grocerant’s hamburgers has become a hot seller at the supermarket. The company is considering more grocerants in other stores.
In Osaka, a grocerant and eat-in space opened on April 1 in the Lucua Osaka commercial complex at JR Osaka Station in Kita Ward.
Called Lucua Food Hall, it boasts about 2,800 sq m of floor space and sells various products - from fresh meats, fish and vegetables to prepared meals such as hors d’oeuvres and karaage deep-fried chicken. Wine, prosciutto and cakes are also available.
With a barbecue corner available in the meat section, customers can make their own course meals, choosing from meats, fillets of fish, cut vegetables, desserts and more.
An eat-in space with about 100 seats occupies the centre of the floor, where customers can eat the prepared meals and drinks they have bought.
The hall’s sales have exceeded expectations by more than 10 per cent and people from all walks of life can be seen there. They include not just families, students and company employees, but also “many elderly male customers, who are driving sales”, said the facility’s operator.
Demand for nakashoku - which can be described as buying prepared meals and other products intended for time-strapped people to eat them at home - is growing in line with the increasing number of single-person households. With this in mind, supermarkets began making efforts to install eat-in spaces. However, convenience stores also got in on the act and took customers away from the supermarkets.
Under these circumstances, some supermarkets have introduced grocerants as a means of differentiating themselves.
Aeon Co has installed grocerants in its Aeonstyle Umie store in Kobe and Aeonstyle Shinurayasu Mona store in Chiba Prefecture.
Steak, pasta, salad, kaisendon seafood rice bowls and other dishes are offered at the Kobe store. “More and more customers are calling on us to enhance our services by offering just-cooked meals,” said an official of the company.
The company will open another grocerant in a store in Hiroshima later this month.
Food consultant Eri Ikeda said there will be more elderly people living alone in the future.
“Cooking can be troublesome for some of them, while others opt to eat out because it’s more economical,” she added. “Installing grocerants in supermarkets nearby could support the lives of these elderly people.”