Bento boxes, hot noodles and more ready-to-eat items arrive morning, noon and night. More than one-third of all meals in Japan are prepared meals sold at retail, with a following among both young singles and growing ranks of less-mobile seniors.
Regional tastes and cultural differences have dictated in the past where multinational food manufacturers and retailers aimed to grow, with many companies purposely overlooking markets deemed too foreign.
Many of the same trends retailers and food manufacturers are grappling with in the United States also are playing out in the U.K. and Europe, where channel-blurring has amplified competition and cash-strapped consumers are cutting back in an uncertain economy.
As recession, austerity measures and inflation played havoc with household budgets throughout much of Europe in 2012, individual grocery chains tried various strategies to promote sales and maintain profits.
"In grocery, what we're seeing is that increases are driven by inflation," says Patrick O'Brien, lead retail analyst at London-based Verdict Research. "Consumers are spending a bit more, but buying a bit less," he says.
In general, discounters and discounting have come on strong as the U.K. economy very slowly recovers from the downturn of 2008-2009, making consumers hyper-aware of costs and opportunities for savings.