Japanese seafood companies keep plants open, adopt telework in response to COVID-19 crisis

Published on
May 15, 2020

Several major seafood companies in Japan have temporarily changed the ways they operate in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, turning to telework and other methods to keep employees safer.

Maruha Nichiro Co., Ltd.’s domestic and overseas food factories are operating normally, though its customer consultation office is not accepting phone calls. Inquiries are by e-mail only, and the company warns that it may take longer than usual to reply.

Some of the Tokyo-based company’s products are getting a boost from shifting consumer demand related to the novel coronavirus. A consumption style nicknamed "nesting," in which people refrain from unnecessary shopping trips, and eat at home, is increasing.

Nesting has led to an increase in demand for shelf-stable foods, with canned mackerel standing out as one of the best-selling products. Production volume of canned mackerel in Japan has been higher than that for canned tuna since 2014. In 2018, the production of canned mackerel peaked at 49,349 metric tons (MT), compared with 31,756 MT for tuna. The boom was kicked off when several TV shows emphasized the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in canned mackerel. In 2019, production declined a bit, but now demand is strong again.

Another Maruha Nichiro product well-adapted to the government’s stay-at-home request is its “Wildish” series of single-serving pilaf, stir-fried rice, and noodle dishes, aimed at single men. They are intended to be eaten directly from the microwavable package, avoiding all cleanup. Shrimp pilaf is the only seafood offering in the current lineup.

Some companies are struggling to find business opportunities during the pandemic. Kyokuyo Co., Ltd., headquartered in Tokyo, is a leader in tuna loin for sashimi, a product that is being hit hard as business entertaining and dining have generally declined. Japanese restaurants are not on lockdown, but they are requested to close by 8 p.m. and to have the last call for alcohol at 7 p.m. in light of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Tokyo-based Nippon Suisan Kaisha, Ltd. (Nissui) has instituted a work-from-home policy at its headquarters – save for some unavoidable tasks – since 27 March. After the Japanese government issued an emergency declaration on 7 April, the policy was extended to Nissui’s research and development bases in ​​Tokyo and sales offices in Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures. A mobile sales system has been in place for a long time, but salespeople can also use the telework now. Nissui also reduced telephone support services at its customer service center and its headquarters from 14 April.

Photo courtesy of Mirko Kuzmanovic/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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