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Supermarkets win customers’ hearts with unique staff and performance; Hokuto store, Yamanashi Pref., goes viral

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Himawari Ichiba President Hidekazu Nawa touts tasty ohagi with a microphone in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture in March. 2.

Supermarkets that support the daily lives of local people are doing well. With their unique features and atmospheres, these supermarkets attract customers from all over the country and also from abroad.

The hugely popular Himawari Ichiba in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture is one of them. One day in mid-March, before Higan equinoctial week, the store’s public address system repeatedly shouted out the word “ohagi”: rice balls coated in sweet bean paste.

“They only make this ohagi for Higan, no matter how many times we ask them for more,” Himawari Ichiba President Hidekazu Nawa said into a microphone in a rich voice. “They are so tasty that you want to eat them all year round.” His powerful voice was reminiscent of the sound you hear at fish or vegetable auctions.

He continued his unique conversation style by telling a behind-the-scenes story about the ohagi maker.

“I told them, ‘If you sold these ohagi all year round, sales would skyrocket, they are that good.’ But they said to me, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. If we did that, the Japanese would lose their sense of seasonality.”

Speaking about why he started the DJ-like quick announcements, Nawa said: “It doesn’t cost me a cent. I’m not a professional announcer or anything, but I think my talk strikes a chord with the customers,” he said with a smile.

Nawa also uses his gift to sell the shop’s special menchi-katsu minced meat cutlets every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The chops, made with Matsusaka beef and Kagoshima kurobuta (black pig) pork, are popular among tourists from within and even outside Japan.

Nawa talks to the customers through the microphone so that they don’t get tired of waiting in line for their turn to buy the schnitzels.

“Are you from Switzerland? No way!” he said in an exaggerated tone, holding out the microphone to a Swiss man.

Nawa once reportedly left the store altogether to talk to a famous former baseball player he had noticed.

He joined Himawari Ichiba in 2001 after being invited by the store’s founder while working at a market in Kofu. Since the store lacked a sense of vitality at the time, Nawa started having employees greet customers properly. Over time, new skilled employees joined the company, while those who disagreed with its policies left, Nawa said.

For example, a wine connoisseur with more than 20 years of experience at a winery in Yamanashi Prefecture joined the supermarket and is responsible for selecting wines from Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures. One of the more popular wines at Himawari Ichiba is one that costs over ¥10,000.

Side dishes prepared by an employee who used to be a chef of Chinese cuisine are also extremely popular, and seasonal vegetables selected by an in-store vegetable sommelier are also available in the supermarket.

The store’s buyers have been able to collect the best food products from all over Japan. “Our customers trust us,” says Nawa.

Former pastry chef Mari Koshikawa moved to Yamanashi Prefecture with her family to work at Himawari Ichiba after the COVID-19 pandemic. Now she oversees the selection and purchasing of sweets in the store.

Last year, Koshikawa worked with a nearby coffee roaster and other companies to develop a coffee pudding for a national television program. The puddings are available in the supermarket alongside a point-of-sale display with her photo and introduction.

“Additive-free sweets have a shorter shelf life and there are not many varieties. I would like to develop more new products,” Koshikawa said.

Nawa puts a lot of effort into announcements in the stores, because he wants to meet the expectations of his employees.

“The employees are the biggest draw of the store,” he says. “They count on me, so I have to do my best.”

Social media has been affected

In-store song and dance performances at the Fines Takeda supermarket in Imari, Saga Prefecture, have also proven popular.

A video showing Vice President Atsushi Takeda in a green apron and sunglasses promoting fried horse mackerel and vegetable croquette while dancing went viral on social media, drawing customers from all over Japan to the store.

President Satoshi Takeda also appears in the video. “Our supermarket is a place where ‘safe food’ is sold. Customers will build trust in us when they can see the faces of the people selling their food,” he said.

supermarket 22 2
Thanks to Fines Takeda
A performance by employees of Fines Takeda


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