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This in-depth guide to Japan explores the key trends in grocery retail and the growth strategies of the leading retailers in the country.

The four largest grocery retailers in Asia are 7&i Holdings, FamilyMart UNY, Aeon and Lawson, we reviewed their five year growth forecasts, strategic priorities and latest developments.

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American manufacturer and distributor Avery Dennison has announced that it will work with the Japanese government to drive RFID technology roll-out in convenience stores across Japan.

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We round up the latest trading updates and news for Japan's four largest retailers.

Seven & i posts 13.2% increase in revenue

Seven & i Holdings has released a strong set of Q3 results, posting a 13.2% increase in operating revenue to JPY5,072.3bn, with operating income up 2.9% to JPY304.2bn. Revenue from its domestic CVS operations grew modestly at 2.9%, with existing stores rising for the eigth consecutive year at 1.5%. Growth categories were in sandwiches and noodles sales, delicatessen items and health-oriented products.

The retailer's main supermarket banner, Ito Yokado, was flat at -0.3% YoY. It ended the reported period with 164 stores across Japan, two fewer than the corresponding period last year. Further closures are expected, with the retailer forecasting to end the fiscal year with 158 stores. While total convenience store sales in the U.S increased 28.3% to JPY3,002.6bn for the nine months ending 30th September 2018. Gasoline sales was up 50.8%, with existing store sales up 1.4%.

Seven & i is on track to deliver another excellent year of growth and income. It continues to bring new initiatives to its stores, including store entry and payment through facial recognition. To drive in-store efficiencies and support labour shortages in Japan, it is installing an AI ordering system to suggest volume orders, as well as equipment to collect information to support operational management.

FamilyMart UNY completes brand conversion

In the nine-month period ended 30th November 2018, FamilyMart UNY posted a 1.7% YoY decline in gross operating revenue to JPY470.8bn (excludes the performance of discounted businesses). Core operating income increased 31.4% to JPY48.2bn.

FamilyMart UNY completed brand conversion of all Circle K and Sunkus brand stores to FamilyMart across Japan on November 30, 2018. This has resulted in a total of 5,003 stores being converted since the merger in September 2016. Converted stores have seen YoY increases in both daily sales and customer numbers. More profitable operations is a focus rather than opening new stores. The retailer is committed to enhancing product competitiveness, improving store operating procedures and reinforcing store foundations.

In the general merchandise store business, the six MEGA Don Quijote UNY stores (collaboration with Don Quijote) have sustained positive sales trends. UNY hypermarket operations in Japan will be classified as discontinued businesses (for FamilyMart UNY), after Don Quijote completed the acquisition of UNY on 4th January.

Lawson posts 6.5% increase in sales

Lawson has announced its financial results for the third quarter, posting a 6.5% increase in net sales of convenience stores to JPY1,833.9bn, and 6.8% rise in operating revenue to JPY527.6bn. This was mainly driven by new store openings across network, with a net increase of 532 stores. It reached 14,524 convenience stores in Japan for the reported period. Store numbers overseas increased by a net 452 to 2,048 stores, with expansion mainly coming from China. 

FY2018 marks the third and final year of Lawson's 1000-Day Action Plan project, which aims to develop next-generation convenience stores, stronger support for everyday living and reform of in-store operations. This has been reflected in the retailer's operating profit in the nine months, which declined 11.9% YoY to JPY47.8bn, with investment in systems and expenses for launching Lawson Bank.

The retailer continues to expand its Lawson Fresh Pick (Loppick) service to approximately 1,600 Lawson stores in Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture. To appeal to a more diverse set of shoppers, the service allows users to order fresh produce and meal kits via smart phone in the morning and pick up their order from a Lawson store in the evening. It remains committed to upgrading its evening range and food options so that they are as attractive as those in the mornings and at lunchtimes.

Health & Wellness Business key growth area for AEON

AEON has continued to cut prices across its formats to attract shoppers and this has led to stronger customer traffic during Q3. For the nine months ending in November, AEON posted a 2.1% increase in operating revenue of JPY6339.3bn, with operating income rising 6% to JPY109bn. The performance of the retailer's GMS Business was flat, with operating revenue growing 0.3% to JPY2,272.9bn. Operating revenue from its Supermarket Business, which includes Maxvalu and Ministop convenience chain, grew 0.5% to JPY2,429.8bn YoY. The retailer's International Business, which includes operations in Malaysia and Hong Kong, recorded revenue growth of 7.6% to JPY330.1bn.

AEON's Health & Wellness Business, which operates under Welcia Holdings Co., Ltd continued to perform strongly, highlighting growing demand in this segment. YoY of all store sales for the nine months increased 12.5%, while same-store sales increased 5.2%. The retailer ended Q3 with 1,800 stores, and continues to be the leader in a highly fragmented Japanese drugstore market.




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Japan-based AEON has acquired a 19.9% stake in France-based organic retailer, Bio c’ Bon.

50 new stores planned by 2021

AEON and Bio c' Bon partnered in 2016 and opened a first Japanese store in Tokyo soon after. The joint venture, Bio c' Bon Japan, is owned equally by AEON and Bio c’ Bon. A total of eight stores have been opened in Japan since, with the companies reiterating their aim to operate 50 in three years. Following the success of the initial partnership, AEON has decided to acquire an almost 20% stake in Bio c’ Bon.

Challenge of supply

Bio c’ Bon stores offer Japanese products and a Made in France range, comprising, wine, cheeses and more. “The organic products offered by Bio c’ Bon are subject to a set of specific rules: the Japanese Agricultural Standards for the Japanese products and the Biological Agriculture label for the French products”. The supply of local products in Japan is a challenge for the companies as only 0.2% of agricultural products are organic and suppliers are difficult to find.

South Korea’s FTC (Fair Trade Commission) approved a set of voluntary rules agreed by convenience store operators to better protect struggling franchisees.

Minimum distance between stores

Five members of the Korea Association of Convenience Store Industry, CU, GS25, 7-ELEVEN, MINISTOP, C-SPACE and Emart24, came up with a voluntary agreement to curb excessive competition.

A key centerpieceof the agreement is that stores of rival brands should be at least 50 metres away from each other. This is the first time the convenience stores have set the minimum distance since 2000.

Move to ease market saturation

FTC’s approval will see the voluntary agreement to be applied to to 96% (38,000) of convenience stores nationwide.

The number of convenience stores has risen sharply to at least 40,000 last year, driven by an increase of single-member and two-people households.

Kim Sang-jo, chairman of the FTC, said the regulations could ease saturation and prevent reckless new openings in areas where there are already many existing stores.

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We have seen several retailers across Asia launch their own e-wallets recently, including AEON in Malaysia, and FamilyMart and Carrefour in Taiwan.

AEON launches its own e-wallet

Earlier this year, AEON introduced its e-wallet app. Available to download on Google Play and Apple App store, AEON's e-wallet allows shoppers to pay and earn points at participating AEON stores (AEON Big Hypermarkets, AEON MaxValu Prime and AEON Wellness) seamlessly. Users can pay by scanning the QR code at the point of sale and earn points for credit when making purchases with the app.

Users just need to add their credit card to the e-wallet and will then be able to monitor their balance and transaction history real-time. The app has a biometric login feature and multi-factor authentication to help reassure users any concerns about security.

AEON Asia Sdn Bhd.'s Managing Director, Shinobu Washizawa, said, "We realise that there is an increase in the use of mobile payments, thus the AEON e-wallet will not only provide our customers with convenience, but also a safe and secure payment system [...]."

Last year, the retailer announced plans to invest JPY500bn (US$4.4bn) in online operations over the next three years. It posted a robust set of H1 results earlier this month.

Other epayment solutions in Asia

The introduction of mobile payment services in Taiwan has been relatively slow despite high smartphone penetration. Many shoppers still prefer to purchase online and collect and pay in cash in-store. However, retailers are beginning to invest in more digital solutions, for example, FamilyMart (My FamiPay) and Carrefour (Carrefour Pay) have recently launched their own e-wallets in Taiwan. The latter allows users to add up to five credit cards in one app. Two of the most well-known epayment solutions in Asia are Alipay and WeChat pay.

We've developed a single, universal methodology for calculating food and consumer goods retail data, supported by our programme of primary and secondary research. This makes Datacentre the most reliable and robust source available for data of this type. 

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