Snow in Japan hinders food distribution

The record-setting snowfall that hit the Kanto and Koshin regions up to the Tohoku region over the past weekend has been paralysing transportation networks, hindering the delivery of food and other daily commodities to retailers and restaurant chains.

Airlifting sweet buns

"We never imagined that transportation would be paralysed for so long," said a public relations official of the major retail group Seven & i Holdings Co. with a sigh.

On Monday, the retail giant delivered about 3,200 sweet buns by two transport helicopters to snow-stricken Yamanashi Prefecture. The buns were then distributed to Seven-Eleven convenience stores and its group stores in the prefecture via small commercial vehicles. The major retailer has transported items by helicopter for other emergencies such as the heavy snowfall in January 1998 and the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. The latest delivery of items by helicopters is an unusual measure comparable to such major natural disasters.

Meanwhile, convenience stores in Yamanashi, Gunma, and Saitama prefectures run by the major convenience store operator Lawson Inc. were affected by significant delays and cancellation of distribution. The convenience store operator could not deliver such food items as bento, onigiri rice balls and sandwiches to stores, especially in Yamanashi Prefecture. Moreover, up to about 20 Lawson convenience stores were closed from Saturday through Monday due to factors including blackouts and difficulty in securing staff to work at the stores.

The major petroleum wholesaler Idemitsu Kosan Co. could not distribute oil, including gasoline and heating oil, to gasoline stations in Kofu and nearby areas last weekend.

Though snow in Tokyo has been melting, the effect of snowfall is spreading in the metropolitan area, too.

Royal Holdings Co., which operates the Royal Host family restaurant chain, cannot foresee when the company will be able to deliver cooking ingredients used at its restaurants in Yamanashi Prefecture. Furthermore, at its restaurants in Tokyo, "The delivery of ingredients may be delayed on Tuesday and after," said an official of the company.

The amount of fruit and vegetables shipped from snow-hit Saitama, Gunma, Nagano and Fukushima prefectures to Tokyo's Tsukiji wholesale market on Monday was only about 50 per cent the usual amount, according to fruits and vegetables wholesaler Tokyo City Seika Co. The market especially has a serious shortage of negi leeks and spinach, the wholeseller said.

Delivery services

According to Japan Post Co., as of 5 p.m. Monday, the delivery of letters and parcels in eastern Japan was delayed from half a day to a few days.

Since Saturday, Nippon Express Co.'s delivery service for companies has stopped collecting and delivering parcels, or has been delayed, in six prefectures-Gunma, Yamanashi, Saitama, Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Tochigi. Collecting and delivering parcels at Yamato Transport Co. and Sagawa Express Co. have also been delayed in the Kanto region and other areas.

Transportation by train has been also affected by snowfall. According to Japan Freight Railway Co., 212 train runs for carrying foods, chemicals and petroleum tanks, which depart from, arrive at, or pass through the metropolitan area, were suspended until Sunday. Delivery service of 34 train runs was also expected to be suspended as of Tuesday.

"Train service will be possibly suspended" depending on snowfall, an official said.

Distributor

Seven & i Holdings increased the number of its delivery trucks by about 30 per cent and moved up the departures of trucks from 30 minutes to one hour last weekend. As snow is forecast for this week again, the company is considering an additional increase of trucks.

"We took several measures for snowfall, but the weather exceeded our expectations," said Genichi Tamatsuka, chief operating officer of Lawson on Monday. He said he may consider diversifying delivery means.