But they’re not just a place for Slurpees and snacks. Nearly 27 percent of Japan’s population is now 65 or older, and convenience stores are changing to serve this growing market.
Case in point is a Lawson convenience store in the city of Kawaguchi, north of Tokyo. It sells products that an American consumer would never find tucked between the aspirin and the candy bars. For example, there’s a whole rack of ready-to-heat meals in colorful pouches. They’re rated at levels from 1 to 5, based on how hard it is to chew what’s inside.
Or, as the store’s manager, Masahiko Terada, puts it, “the higher the level, the less need for you to chew. In the end it’s porridge.”
Of course, not all older people have trouble chewing, and many still cook for themselves. So Terada points out a fresh food section unlike anything you’d see in most U.S. mini-marts. There are packages of raw vegetables and meat, much of it already cut up and packaged in single-serving amounts for the increasing number of older people living alone these days in Japan.
There are also dozens of products intended not so much for older consumers as for their caregivers — items to deal with incontinence and its consequences, for example, like especially strong, deodorizing laundry detergent or devices that are useful for giving bed baths.
“So, basically, we have this lineup of products so that the elderly don’t need to go to the big supermarkets,” says Terada. “They can use this store as a substitute.”
Because older adults make up nearly 27 percent of Japan’s population, they are a market that can’t be ignored, says Ming Li, who works in communications for Lawson.
“We try to accommodate the changes in society,” he says.
The convenience store industry in Japan is dominated by three …