Convenience store in Toyama offers halal food for Muslims
IMIZU, Toyama Prefecture–When Takako Kadoshima took over running a Lawson convenience store here about five years ago, she noticed a peculiar shopping practice among her customers.
She found that young shoppers were checking the labeling of instant noodle products for ingredients they were prohibited from consuming.
Pork and other prohibited ingredients are contained in many food products, so they could only buy a limited number of products at the store.
“Convenience stores are convenient for us but not for Muslims,” recalls Kadoshima, 48.
Today, his Lawson store sells food products prepared according to Islamic law in this major residential area for Pakistani residents of Japan.
Although the outlet is no different from other Lawson outlets elsewhere in the country, the store now caters to the needs of Muslims.
Located in western Toyama Prefecture, an area home to Imizu’s convenience store is so famous for its unique culture long nurtured by many local Pakistanis that it is nicknamed “Imizu-stan”.
Upon entering Lawson’s Shinminato-Tsubatae store along a national road, shoppers will soon find not only a sign that reads “Halal food items are available”, but also shelves lined with packaged biryani rice flour, biscuits with cumin, spicy curry and an instant noodle product made from chicken the soup.
All of these items are Halal certified in their producing countries. The shelves were installed in August last year.
Kadoshima said his store initially handled 15 types of halal items, such as cookies and instant noodles.
After adding a rusk to combine with chai, chicken broth and pomegranate juice in response to customer requests, the number of halal products reached 51.
“I asked customers what they wanted one after another,” Kadoshima said.
HEAD OFFICE AUTHORIZATION
The Shinminato district of Imizu has a large Pakistani population, which earned it the nickname chosen in tribute to Pakistan.
As Imizu hosts the new port of Toyama, Pakistanis have reportedly started migrating en masse to Shinminato in hopes of exporting used cars to Russia.
The 420 Pakistani residents of Imizu represent the largest number among any municipality in Toyama prefecture as of January 1.
Many restaurants serve Pakistani dishes and a mosque stands opposite the convenience store.
Shortly after becoming the manager of this convenience store, Kadoshima began to wonder if her outlet could provide halal products to meet the needs of Pakistani residents. But she couldn’t find suppliers in the prefecture and abandoned the plan at the time.
The turning point came in February last year when 19-year-old Akram Mohammad Saad, whose parents are from Pakistan, joined his store staff as a part-time employee. Like other Pakistanis, Akram was seen carefully examining the products one by one to confirm if they are free from banned ingredients.
The sight reminded Kadoshima of his once abandoned effort to make his own shop more friendly to Islamic worshipers.
Kadoshima then learned that a Lawson outlet in Tokyo was selling halal products and wondered if it was possible to source these items for a store away from Tokyo.
With the help of her eldest daughter living in the capital and studying there, Kadoshima held talks with a supplier of halal products.
There were questions about how many people would be sold and how much food to secure first. More serious was whether Lawson Inc.’s corporate headquarters would greenlight the plan.
Although Kadoshima was “concerned” about the issue, a company head office official she contacted told her she “should take the plunge,” giving the store manager an encouraging thumbs up.
Customer responses have been much more enthusiastic than expected. One customer called what she started to offer “fantastic”, while another expressed her gratitude to Kadoshima for “doing us such a favor”.
Hearing these words of appreciation from the Muslims, Kadoshima felt satisfied with the result of her efforts.
“The existence of convenience stores is taken for granted,” Kadoshima said. “We rarely receive gratitude from customers just by preparing certain products. I am happy with what we have accomplished. »
Working with Akram allowed Kadoshima to learn the difference between permitted items for Muslims and prohibited ones. Some gelatins and emulsifiers, for example, contain ingredients derived from pork.
Details are unknown for some products, but Kadoshima is always careful to share all specifications of these items, including the fact that their nutritional information is unclear, with customers.
The efforts stemmed from its philosophy of “valuing interactions with our customers”.
Recently, Muslims asked the operator to offer halal bento because this type of product is a staple of convenience stores. With their expectations in mind, Kadoshima is considering what steps to take to sell halal canned meals in his shop.
COMMUNICATE WITH CUSTOMERS
According to Lawson, two outlets in Osaka and Gifu prefectures source halal products through the company’s supply network. About 10 stores across the country prepare Muslim-friendly items themselves, such as the Shinminato-Tsubatae store.
“Such offers cannot be provided everywhere due to the difficulty of supply,” said a Lawson representative. “Explanations and other forms of communication with customers are also important.”
Do other major convenience store chain operators offer similar offerings?
FamilyMart Co. said halal products cannot be purchased at any of its outlets. There are no plans to put them on sale at this time.
Seven-Eleven Japan Co. has tested halal products in an area in the past, but no outlet currently sells such items.