Night Bakery Gains Popularity: Combating Food Waste While Creating Jobs

A new kind of business, the night bakery sells leftover bread from bakeries at stands near busy stations in Tokyo in an effort to reduce food waste.

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A new kind of enterprise is popping up on city streets in Japan – the night bakery. Once such business in Tokyo offers unsold items collected from local bakeries before closing time. This particular initiative not only addresses food loss, but also offers workers a highly flexible working environment. Employees can take advantage of shifts that accommodate their individual circumstances.

The bakery has quickly developed a clientele. Customers are drawn by the daily variety of products from shops from across the city and even country. In fact, they sometimes return only to find the items have sold out due to the shop's popularity.

Conceived by Renowned Chef

"Irrashaimase! We're the night bakery." In front of a bookstore near Tokyo Metro's Kagurazaka Station, people hear the call and stop off to purchase items. On this particular day, about 200 products are sold between this shop and another that operates in front of JR Tamachi Station. They come from bakeries in various neighborhoods around Tokyo, including Shimokitazawa and Oji.

The night bakery is the brain child of celebrity chef and TV personality Nahomi Edamoto. The business was launched on World Food Day on October 16, 2020.

night bakery
Night bakery sales staff in Kagurazaka on February 8, 2024 in Shinjuku Ward. (©Sankei by Ryu Kajiwara)

Edamoto also serves as a board member for The Big Issue magazine. Half of the publication's sales revenue is given to the homeless people who sell the magazine on the street, fulfilling the need for diversified employment opportunities. Through this work, Edamoto learned about a Hokkaido shop consolidating unsold bread from multiple locations to sell at night. She was inspired to create an initiative to ensure people have more equal access to food.

The Kagurazaka bookstore provided valuable support to the night bakery when it first opened. Still, collecting the baked goods proved challenging. There were very few examples of proxy sales of bakery products. Despite persistent efforts, the aspiring entrepreneurs faced repeated rejections. Nonetheless, they eventually secured cooperation from long-standing stores in Kagurazaka which led to partnerships with other stores.

No Discounts Offered

The night bakery prices products the same as those in bakeries, without any discounts. Some customers express surprise at the lack of a markdown. Staff continue to patiently explain the store's concept and efforts to address food loss and create employment opportunities. As awareness of the issues slowly grows, the night bakery's clientele is gradually increasing.

The night bakery offering a variety of unsold bread from bakeries, February 8, 2024 in Shinjuku Ward. (©Sankei by Ryu Kajiwara)

The number of bakeries participating has now grown and currently stands at nearly 30 stores, including those in Hokkaido and Mie Prefecture. The night bakery now operates in three Tokyo locations – Kagurazaka, Tamachi, and Otemachi – for about 2-3 hours on weekday nights. 

Challenges remain, including handling inclement weather and how it affects demand. Yet partner bakeries have expressed relief that they can continue baking their breads with the confidence that they will be sold.

Social media has played a major role. The enterprise began without any staff experienced in social media marketing. They started by installing apps and through trial and error, worked on disseminating information. Since early 2024, social media posts showcasing the night bakery have garnered over 50,000 likes. Products are now selling out daily due to increased patronage.

Putting an End to Life on the Street

Currently, 17 people are on staff to handle everything from procurement from bakeries to sales. Working hours vary. Some work around five hours from collection to closing, while others work only an hour doing collections. Among staff members are those who were previously homeless. Now with stable income, all have been able to find housing over a two-year period.

On February 8, 2024, about 50 items from six bakeries were sold at the Kagurazaka streetside shop. (©Sankei by Ryu Kajiwara)

One employee, who we will call Ms S,  has been working at the night bakery for over two years. She also works at the bookstore. Having faced past health issues due to the stress of full-time work, she "appreciates the flexibility of the job," which she learned about through a friend's recommendation.

The night bakery places emphasis on communication with customers. As products vary daily, staff members sometimes need to taste them so they can convey the products' features and flavors to customers.

Another staff member, Ms M, commented on the business's significance. "Simply enjoying the delicious bread can contribute to reducing food loss," she says. 

Night bakery staff are actively seeking to expand the locations and bakery partnerships to provide flexible working opportunities for willing workers.

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