A 66-year-old man living in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward rises before daybreak and eases into his day with a morning walk. Like many older people, he tends to wake up early.
His daily routine starts by looking for bargains in fliers, and then he stops by the supermarket during his morning constitutional.
A growing number of supermarkets are opening their doors earlier nowadays to cater to customers like the Shinagawa man. Many restaurants and cafes are doing the same, as well as expanding their breakfast menus.
The new opening hours came about last year in response to the increase in people with earlier work shifts, which are designed to save electricity during a summer without nuclear energy following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Supermarket and restaurant operators realized there was a largely untapped source of customers they could cater to with earlier summertime opening hours: Japan's rapidly aging society.
On June 1, Aeon Co., the nation's largest supermarket chain operator, opened the doors of its Aeon and MaxValu stores at 7 a.m., two hours earlier than usual. Aeon saw a significant increase in morning sales last summer, company officials said.
This year, Aeon plans to keep the opening time of its 1,200 outlets at 7 a.m. for three months. The company expects its sales during that period to rise by 17 billion yen ($213 million).
“Our rivals are coffee shops that are opening at 7 a.m.," an Aeon executive said. "Unless we open our outlets early, we will lose our customers."
Elsewhere in March, family restaurant chain Gusto increased the number of “morning sets” on its menus. A typical morning set consists of toast and a drink for 240 yen. The new menus have led to about a 10-percent increase in sales from elderly people.
“Although we see few profits from the new morning menus, many customers of those menus have become regular visitors," said a public relations official of Skylark Co., operator of Gusto. "We hope that they come to our restaurants not only in the morning, but at other times as well."
In 2011, fast food giant McDonald's also began offering more items on its breakfast menu priced between 200 yen and 250 yen. The company said the low-cost breakfast items have been a great success.
The 66-year-old Shinagawa man said having supermarkets opening earlier has made his life much easier.
“I wake up at 5 a.m. I previously had a lot of time on my hands in the morning that I didn't know what to do with," he said. "Now, I am able to get all of my shopping done in the morning."
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