Burgeoning bento culture: Japanese consumers seek healthy, hassle-free and affordable RTE products in convenience stores – survey

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

RTE meals from convenience stores are especially popular among Japanese men and the younger generation. ©Getty Images
RTE meals from convenience stores are especially popular among Japanese men and the younger generation. ©Getty Images

Related tags Japan Convenience stores Ready meals Rte consumer behaviour

A new survey in Japan has found that a fraction of Japanese consumers, especially men and the younger generation, prefer quick and easy meals from convenience stores to preparing their own lunch boxes, spelling major opportunities for firms making RTE products.

In a recent survey by ITOCHU Group’s MyVoiceCom, about 45% of 9,461 respondents said that they consume bento boxes — also known as ready-to-eat (RTE) lunch boxes — sold at convenience stores.

The survey was held from June 1 to 5 via an online questionnaire.

Results showed that more than 10% of people who buy bento boxes eat them more than once a week, with the ratio being high among men and young consumers.

The reasons cited by the respondents include ‘the desire to finish a meal quickly’, ‘no time to prepare meals’, and ‘troublesome to make lunch boxes’.

In terms of the criteria for selecting RTE meals, price, appearance and taste were chosen as the biggest factors.

Other purchase drivers include nutritional value, inclusion of various side dishes, big portion size, and large amount and variety of vegetables.

“Particularly for female respondents, ‘bento boxes that look delicious and pretty’ was ranked as the top criteria, surpassing price,”​ the report stated.

In addition, the survey collected more than 4,000 comments on areas of improvement that consumers wish to see in convenience store lunch boxes.

Among the elderly, a demand for healthier options, such as low-carbohydrate meals with less sugar and additives, was observed.

The prices of the bento boxes that were part of the survey ranged from JPY450 (US$3.20) to JPY549 (US$4).

While less than 50% of lunch boxes cost JPY500 (US$3.60) or more, it is a significant increase as compared to the last survey done in 2021.

The inflation is not lost on some respondents, who said that ‘it is not uncommon for lunch boxes to be overpriced’, while some recognised that the hike is due to rising commodity prices.

Meal accompaniments

Among the wide range of lunch boxes available at Japanese convenience stores, 52.3% of respondents eat “rice with side dishes” most frequently.

Other popular items are namely rice bowls, rice balls, and noodles, which are especially popular among women in their teens to 50s.

Furthermore, over 70% of bento buyers tend to purchase a drink together with their meal, with green tea, Japanese tea drinks, Chinese tea drinks, and coffee beverages being the most common.

On the other hand, less than 60% purchase other foods along with their lunch boxes.  

“For those who do, 20.6% of them chose salad, and 13 to 15% of them chose miso soup, chilled desserts, ice cream, and breads.”

Specifically, a majority of women in their thirties to fifties picked chilled desserts and ice cream as their top choice, while sweets and snacks are more favoured among younger women.

As the trend of convenient foods continues to grow worldwide, the survey serves to provide insights into the burgeoning Japanese bento culture and could help shape future product development in the RTE space, for companies in this sector to best capitalise on local preferences.

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