Why Fried Fried Food Restaurants Decreased and “Onigiri Specialty Restaurants” Increased? Inflation was the key factor that made the difference between the two. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Why Fried Fried Food Restaurants Decreased and “Onigiri Specialty Restaurants” Increased? Inflation was the key factor that made the difference between the two.

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A new custom that started with the COVID-19 crisis is the online drinking party. During times when people were not able to go out freely, such as in stay-homes, some people must have looked forward to having a slightly extravagant evening drink in the house.

Fried chicken does not lose its deliciousness even when taken out. In the years since the COVID-19 crisis began, I have seen more and more fried food restaurants, but I felt that recently there has been a noticeable number of closures. Instead, there has been an increase in onigiri (rice ball) stores, mainly for take-out. In fact, there were as many as eight onigiri stores within a 10-minute walking distance from Shibuya station, for example.

Onigiri can be purchased at convenience stores and kiosks. However, there must be some reason why onigiri specialty stores have gone out of their way to line the streets. We asked Atsushi Karl Hirano, a management consultant, about it (all statements in parentheses are his).

Onigiri Bongo, an onigiri specialty restaurant in Otsuka, Toshima-ku, Tokyo Photo: Kyodo News

The number of fried food restaurants continued to increase, at one point surpassing that of McDonald’s.

The number of takeout stores increased as the reduced tax rate was applied to outside food and beverages when the consumption tax was increased in 2007. The number of karaage restaurants increased, riding the tailwind of takeout demand in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

Karaage became the catchphrase for the COVID-19 crisis’s reluctance to eat out and fatigue with cooking for oneself. At the same time, demand for takeout and delivery expanded, and at its peak, some karaage restaurants specialized in delivery and did not have a physical store, called ghost kitchens,” said Hirano.

As of April 2010, according to the Japan Karaage Association, there were an estimated 4,379 restaurants nationwide. The number has increased about 10-fold in 10 years from 450 stores in 2012. Compared to McDonald’s with approximately 3,000 stores and Kentucky with 1,197 stores, this is a large number of stores. The rapid increase in the number of such fried food restaurants is one of the reasons for the string of closures.

The rapid increase in the number of such fried food restaurants is one of the reasons for their closure. In many cases, what were originally tapioca stores have been converted to Taiwanese and Korean chicken stores. Also, fried chicken is a relatively simple dish and does not require professional chefs. This ease of opening a restaurant, coupled with the excessive increase in the number of restaurants, made it difficult to differentiate between them,” said Hirano.

Inflation” is the biggest factor behind the decline in the number of karaage restaurants and the increase in the number of onigiri (rice ball) restaurants

Just as the market for karaage restaurants was becoming saturated and competition was intensifying, an even bigger factor was coming into play. The cost of raw materials has skyrocketed as a result of recent inflation.

The soaring costs of imported chicken, oil, and other raw materials have made it difficult for deep-fat fryers to pass these costs onto their prices,” says Mr. Krishnamoorthy. On the other hand, the rice used for rice balls is mainly produced domestically, so it is not affected by import inflation due to the weak yen, and the cost of raw materials can be kept relatively low. The manufacturing process is also simple, so there is no need to secure professional chefs, as is the case with sushi. This makes it possible to offer products at low prices, which are more affordable than competing products such as boxed lunches and hamburgers,” says Hirano.

Onigiri sold at convenience stores now cost more than 100 yen across the board. This reflects the upscale consumers’ desire for authentic onigiri if they are going to go out of their way to eat them.

Mr. Ono said, “I suspect that the rising awareness of thriftiness due to the high cost of living in recent years has increased demand for meals that provide satisfaction from a single meal, and that is why high-cost onigiri are gaining in popularity. Onigiri specialty stores are now offering “evolved onigiri” with a variety of toppings to meet consumers’ tastes and appearance. These are the kind of onigiri that look great on Instagram, with toppings so large that they overflow from the rice.

The popularity of high-price onigiri with ingredients such as salmon roe in convenience stores has demonstrated the market for “high-end onigiri. Onigiri specialty stores offer unique menus that give customers a sense of luxury that they cannot experience at home. Onigiri is truly a “petit luxury fast food” that fits the current era.

It is true that onigiri offers more variety than hamburgers and fried foods, and you can choose from a variety of healthy ingredients. In addition, the fact that people are becoming more health-conscious after the COVID-19 crisis, seems to have provided a tailwind.

The healthy, portable, and easy-to-eat onigiri, rather than the high-calorie, fatty fried chicken, may be gaining renewed support among today’s busy people. In light of the continued price hikes of competing hamburgers, onigiri are both filling and reasonably priced,” says Hirano.

Onigiri stores will continue to increase in number.

Onigiri specialty stores are easier to open than other restaurants because they do not require special equipment such as ovens or large refrigerators. The number of onigiri stores is expected to continue to increase in the future because they can be opened in small spaces or in kitchen cars.

The number of stores is also increasing,” says Mr. Kato, “including ‘Omusubi Gonomei,’ which has stores mainly in the Kanto region but also in the U.S. and Europe, and ‘Honoririya,’ which mainly opens stores inside JR stations. It is called “Onigiri Bongo” in Otsuka, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, The number of stores affiliated with a specialty onigiri store in Otsuka, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, where customers line up in long lines, is also expected to increase in the future,” says Hirano.

In addition to consumers’ health consciousness, prices are rising. The combined effects of various factors have led to the decline of fried food restaurants, which had been so popular in the past. On the other hand, onigiri rice balls, which have always been familiar to consumers, are now being selected with a wider variety of ingredients. How long will this phenomenon continue?

Hirano says, “There have been booms in restaurants for tapioca and high-end bread, but I think onigiri, a traditional Japanese food that has long been familiar to Japanese people, will not be a passing fad, but rather will become a fixture.

If you happen to see an onigiri specialty store in town, you are sure to encounter a nostalgic yet new taste.

  • Rizene Ikemori Photo Kyodo News

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