At 50, Japanese Co-ops Emphasize Education and Food Safety

Japan continues to experience a prolonged recession, so much so that some sectors of the economy, including grocery, are actually experiencing deflation. According to a NYT report (9/25), supermarket sales fell 5.2 percent in August 2000 from a year earlier, and the country's largest supermarket chain, Daiei, expects sales to fall an additional 8 percent during the fiscal year ending in February 2002.

Co-op Business Results for FY 2000
(4/00 - 3/01)
from Member Co-ops of the JCCU

Unit 2000 00/99
(Divide by 110 for approx. dollar equivalent)
Number of member co-ops611 97.4
   Retail co-ops459 97.9
   Medical co-ops119 95.2
   Housing & insurance co-ops13 100.0
Membership thousand 21,606 103.8
   Retail co-ops thousand 17.938 102.6
   Medical co-ops thousand 2,444 104.0
   Housing & insurance co-ops thousand 1,224 100.0
Han groups (*1999/98 figures) thousand 1,634* 101.1*
Han members thousand 7,184* 95.1*
Han members / total membership % 36.7%* 39.3*
Total turnover billion yen 3,322 98.9
   Retail sales billion yen 2,953 98.2
   Service and other sales billion yen 369 113.5
Total turnover of retail co-ops billion yen 3,034 98.3
   (Purchase/month/member) yen 14,277 95.8
   Retail sales, all retail co-ops billion yen 2,947 98.1
   (Retail outlets sales) billion yen 1,387 96.3
   (Joint buying sales) billion yen 1,487 100.2
   Service and other sales billion yen 87 105.6
Total turnover of medical co-ops billion yen 275 105.9
Total turnover: housing, insur. billion yen 13 98.0
Share capital billion yen 514 106.1
   Retail co-ops billion yen 459 104.7
   Medical co-ops billion yen 51 108.6
   Housing & insur. co-ops billion yen 4 102.2
Share capital/member yen 23,785 102.2
   Retail co-ops yen 25,574 102.0
   Medical co-ops yen 20,866 104.5
   Housing & insur. co-ops yen 3,389 102.2
Co-op bonds billion yen 104 95.9
Number of retail outlets2,541 99.4
Sales area square m. 1,637,593 100.5
Number of full-time employees55,816 97.7
JCCU wholesale amount billion yen 278 99.8

Consumer co-ops, according to figures released by the Japanese Consumers' Co-operative Union (JCCU), did better -- or at least shrank less. In the world's largest co-op movement, membership increased, while the number of retail co-ops declined by 2.1%; currently, 459 retail co-ops have 2,541 outlets. Retail co-op turnover of 3,034 billion yen (about $27 billion) shrank 1.8% compared to 1999. Sales by joint buying or Han groups (think buying clubs) did not shrink and continue to make up over half of total retail sales. Wholesale volume stayed at 278 billion yen. Home delivery and Internet sales continue to grow among several large urban co-ops.

Japanese co-ops emphasize food safety and actively work to support passage of stronger food controls. Safety concerns were strongly underscored by major food poisoning incidents in Japan, and JCCU submitted to the Diet (Japan's legislature) petitions with over 13.7 million signatures demanding changes in food sanitation. The bill was postponed, however.

Like many others in Japan, co-op members are very active in working for peace. JCCU celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001 and hosted officials from the International Co-operative Alliance. In a published interview with ICA President Roberto Rodrigues, the President of JCCU, Mr. Takemoto, remarked, "Our 50 years of history has not always been easy. When I graduated at the end of World War II, what captured my heart was the co-op motto, ‘Peace and a Better Life.' Following the war, everything was in short supply, and some merchants organized anti-co-op movements. We also experienced repression from political parties. The most important influence in the movement has been the power of women and, most importantly, the power of mothers. Today, humankind faces all kinds of problems such as food safety, environmental deterioration and insufficient social safety nets. We cannot overcome these problems as individuals. The principles of a competitive society are no longer sufficient. In the 21st century, co-ops can work to solve these problems through their power to unite women and men."

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