UberEats and Izakayokan are the rivals…A big study of Bento Chains! Which is the strongest among the “Four Heavenly Kings? | FRIDAY DIGITAL

UberEats and Izakayokan are the rivals…A big study of Bento Chains! Which is the strongest among the “Four Heavenly Kings?

Hotto Motto", the champion, "Origin", the old powerhouse, "Hoka Hoka Tei", the former leader, and "Honke Kamadoya", the leader in the Kansai region!

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About 80% of the stores operated by Origin Toshu have been converted to Kitchen Origin. I have the impression that there are more young people living alone than at other stores.

It may no longer be possible to survive as “just a box lunch shop.

Kitchen Origin Keio Tamagawa is located under the elevated railway tracks just outside the ticket gates of Keio-Tamagawa Station (Tokyo), where Kadokawa Daiei Studios is located.

As soon as you enter the store, your eyes are immediately drawn to the shelves lined with large onigiri rice balls. The size of the onigiri is about 1.5 times larger than the small ones sold at convenience stores, and the appearance of the onigiri, wrapped in plastic wrap, evokes the “taste of home. On the other side of the store, colorful packets of vegetables and other side dishes are lined up in small portions.

A man in his 40s or 50s, who appeared to be on his way home from work, picked up one of them. It was probably the new “okra and yam jus” (100 g, 203 yen). He then ordered a vegetable stir-fry bento with soy sauce (538 yen) at the cash register, paid his bill, picked up his order, and remained in the store without leaving.

The man then ordered a vegetable stir-fry bento (soy sauce) (538 yen), paid his bill, received his order, and remained inside the restaurant without leaving.

Food journalist Junnosuke Nagahama spoke as he munched on the “charcoal-grilled mackerel makunouchi bento” (734 yen), his top choice.

The 10-seat counter has an electrical outlet for recharging and a cold water machine. After dinner, you can also enjoy a cup of coffee for a shockingly low 70 yen.
You can also use the pork miso soup you make yourself and onigiri rice balls to enjoy as breakfast.”

Kitchen Origin was opened in February 2002 by Origin Toshu, the company that operates Origin Bento, and was designed to “offer a variety of side dishes and salads sold by weight in addition to traditional boxed lunches. However, after the COVID-19 crisis, most of the products are now offered in small packs.

Origin Bento was started in Kawasaki City in 1994 by the Chinese restaurant Chuka Toshu, which had been in the take-out bento business. Since then, the company has steadily increased its business performance, reaching 100 stores in 1998 and 500 stores in 2004. In 2005, Don Quijote, which was planning to develop a next-generation convenience store business, decided to acquire the company. However, Origin Toshu refused the offer. Origin Toshu refused, saying, ‘I would rather be bought by Don Quijote than by ……,’ and joined the Aeon group,” said Mitsuhiko Suda, a producer in the restaurant industry.

This acquisition spurred Origin to expand its sales channels, including supplying some of its products to Aeon and its affiliated drugstore, Wellcia.

Origin has its roots in Chinese cuisine, which is rich in vegetables, so unlike other companies, which tend to offer bento boxes that are mainly deep-fried, Origin is able to develop menus that combine vegetables and protein. Origin Toshu is rapidly changing its business format from Origin Bento to Kitchen Origin in order to attract female customers by using vegetables as a weapon,” said Suda.

Currently, there are only 26 Origin Bento restaurants left, while Kitchen Origin has 382 outlets.

While Origin is known for its vegetable-filled side dishes, Hoka Hoka Tei, which operates 837 stores nationwide, specializes in old-fashioned gut-boxes.

The company’s origins lie in a takeaway bento store founded by Michiyuki Tabuchi in Saitama Prefecture in 1976, and it began franchising in 1978. Before the appearance of Hokkahokkatei, there were no stores that sold freshly prepared hot bento. Under such circumstances, HOKKAHOKKA TEI exploded in popularity as a restaurant that literally served hot and fresh items based on the concept of “made to order. The “noriben,” a standard takeout bento menu item, was also created by Hokkahokkatei,” said a reporter from a restaurant trade newspaper.

In line with its nationwide expansion, in 1985, Hokkahokkatei introduced a three-region headquarters system. Three companies were in charge of store operations: Daiei for eastern Japan, Harkusley for the Kansai region, and Plenus for Kyushu.’ In 1999, Daiei transferred the business rights for eastern Japan to Plenus, and when the company shifted to the Plenus-Harkley system, it grew into a giant chain operating a maximum of 3,294 stores. However, the company’s business was not as successful as it had been in the past.

However, the relationship between Plenus, which operated two-thirds of the chain’s stores, and the general headquarters of Hoka Hoka Tei deteriorated from around 2006. In 2008, Plenus became independent and launched Hotto Motto. With this parting of the ways, Hottokahokkatei fell to third place in the industry. Today, Hottokko Motto is also facing the challenge of the aging of those who became franchise store owners during the expansion period of the ’90s. Naturally, regular customers are also aging, and there is the problem of a lack of successors. The former absolute champion is facing a pinch,” said Suda.

The shelf of onigiri (rice balls) that you see as soon as you enter an Origin. They are larger than those at convenience stores and are frequently sold at a discount.
Coffee at Origin’s eat-in is available for 70 yen. It is said that many customers stay for a cup of coffee while recharging their cell phones.
Gutsy bento on the high street have lost their share to Hotto Motto and are unable to attract young people. Hottomottei’s struggle is likely to continue.

The most aggressive bento chain

Taking advantage of the gap created by the HOKKAHOKKA TEI split, Honke Kamadoya, which had been expanding mainly in the Kansai region, quickly took the top spot.

The company is a long-established business founded in 1980. It is not well known because there are only seven stores in Tokyo, but it is well known in the Kansai region. The take-out bento is usually heavily seasoned, but Kamadoya is popular for its light, homey flavor with dashi broth,” said food analyst Takao Shigemori.

Kamadoya had 2,300 stores in 2008, when it took the top position, but the number of stores has been reduced to about 400.

Kamadoya is a one-man operation run by its founder, Hiroshu Kanehara, and is a mysterious company with little media exposure or public information. Kamadoya is a mysterious company with little media exposure or public information. It probably has no intention of returning to the top position through marketing or branding, and has simply stuck to being a “bento shop in the Kansai region.

Thus, Hotto Motto (2,444 stores), which parted company with Hoka Hotto Tei, has come to reign at the top of the bento chain industry.

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor, Hotto Motto, Hotto Motto’s mainstay products include fried foods and noriben, a type of bento with a hearty flavor. Since becoming independent, we have steadily expanded, but in 2006 we stumbled with the KARAAGE bento. We renewed the product by increasing the volume while keeping the price unchanged, but the cost ratio rose to about half, and the profit margin dropped, leading to the closure of 190 directly managed stores. Recently, we have been working to cut costs by processing tonkatsu and hamburgers in our own factories and producing our own rice, but this has not contributed much to improving profit margins. Plenus may be getting impatient because its stores in the central business district of Tokyo were hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Suda.

In the Reiwa era, with the spread of Uber Eats and delivery services, the trend of “from take-out to delivery” is taking root, and the bento chains are in a tight spot. The key to the success of bento chains is, surprisingly, Origin, which has more than a five-fold lead over the champion in terms of the number of outlets.

The key is Origin, which surprisingly has more than five times the number of stores as the leader. The products on the shelves are discounted as they approach their expiration dates, and there are frequent campaigns for bulk purchases at reduced prices. The company also offers a wide variety of vegetable-centered deli items, and is the most aggressive of the four companies. From a bento (boxed lunch) chain to a “comprehensive side dish shop,” Origin may become the next major allied company.

The former leader of a major empire has stalled after being stabbed in the back by a close confidant, the champion has outgrown its massive size, a Kansai hero who has been in the market for three days is on the defensive in his hometown, and an old powerhouse is looking for a new challenge to take the upper hand. The rise and fall of the “Four Heavenly Kings” of bento chains is like that of the Warring States Period. The heated competition is entering its second chapter.

The original Kamadoya operates mainly in the Kansai region, but also has stores in Tokyo, including one in Higashi Ikebukuro.
Kichi Ikuzo (71) has appeared in their commercials.

Hotto Motto has used its capital strength to advertise with Lotte’s Akinori Sasaki (22) and volleyball player Sarina Koga (28).
With the spread of delivery services, bento chains are also focusing on home delivery and online ordering using smartphone apps.

From the June 7-14, 2024 issue of FRIDAY


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