Japanese companies are ramping up the use of artificial intelligence and other advanced technology to reduce food waste and cut costs in the pandemic, and looking to score some sustainability points along the way.

Government data showed that disposing of food waste in Japan, which exceeds 6 million tons, costs the world’s No. 3 economy about 2 trillion yen ($ 19 billion) annually.

With the highest per capita food waste in Asia, the Japanese government enacted a new law to halve these costs from 2000 levels by 2030, prompting companies to find solutions.

Lawson, the convenience store chain, is using artificial intelligence to estimate the amount of product on the shelves. Lawson aims to cut excess inventory by 30 percent where it has been put up, and wants to cut food waste in half across all of its stores in 2030 compared to 2018.

Food waste disposal is the largest cost that Lawson franchisees have after labor costs.

Beverage maker Suntory Beverage & Food is experimenting with another Fujitsu AI product to try to determine whether commodities such as oolong tea and mineral water bottles were damaged during shipment.

And with the new AI, Suntory Beverage & Food hopes to gauge whether the box is damaged as well, or when the contents themselves have been damaged and need to be returned.

Suntory Beverage & Food aims to reduce merchandise return by between 30 and 50 percent, reduce the cost of food waste, and develop a common standard system that can be shared between food manufacturers and other shipping companies.

Japanese shoppers are showing signs of acceptance, especially as the Coronavirus pandemic hits income.

Tatsuya Sekito launched Kuradashi, an e-commerce company that deals in unsold food at a discount, in 2014 after seeing massive amounts of waste from food processors while working for a Japanese trading company in China.

Online business is booming now, partly due to a jump in demand for low-priced unsold foods as consumers become more cost-conscious amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sales increased 2.5 times last year compared to the previous year, while the amount of food waste has doubled since the coronavirus halted the food supply chain, Sekito told Reuters.

Kuradashi has a network of 800 companies that sell a total of 50,000 items, and the number has jumped to 180,000 in 2021 from 80,000 in 2019.

Others have joined food companies in developing a new technology platform to reduce food waste as part of the global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

NEC uses artificial intelligence capable of analyzing data such as: weather, calendar and customer trends in estimating demand and giving the reasons behind its analysis.

NEC deployed the technology to some of the major retailers and food makers, helping to cut costs by between 15 and 75 percent.

NEC hopes to share and process data through a common platform between manufacturers, retailers and logistics, to reduce supply chain mismatches.

Ryoichi Morita, senior manager overseeing digital integration for NEC, said: Reducing food waste is not our ultimate goal, but rather we hope it will solve other business challenges, such as: reducing costs, labor shortages, rationalizing inventory, orders and logistics.

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