January 31, 2006


Food as a Bridge between Humans and Nature (Mos Food Services, Inc.)

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.41 (January 2006)

It has been 36 years since the first American style hamburger store chain opened for business in Japan. Over the years, hamburgers have been well received, mainly by young people, because they are low-priced and can be served in just a few minutes after being ordered. As a result, hamburger shops large and small have opened one after another in Japan, and today there are more than 6,000 nationwide.

Although hamburger shops are presently quite popular, it is a fact that they pose many environmental and health problems. For example, hamburger shops discard their unsold products daily, because they need to have pre-cooked and fresh products at the ready so as to not keep customers waiting. In addition, a huge amount of used plastic containers and paper cups from hamburger shops are thrown away. As a meal, hamburgers are also high in calories and low in nutrients.

In order to solve these problems and improve the junk-food image of hamburgers, Mos Food Services, Inc. has developed its "Mos Burger" hamburger store chain by offering original products and a management system that are clearly different from other hamburger chains. Opening its first shop in 1972, Mos Burger increased its number of shops to 1,472 by March 2005. Of these, the company directly manages 145 shops. It is now the second largest hamburger chain in Japan.

As a native Japanese hamburger chain, Mos Burger emphasizes the use of high-quality ingredients to make better products, as opposed to mass producing cheap food. It also emphasizes its embrace of traditional Japanese food culture. Each dish has always been cooked after receiving the customer's order, so as to provide fresher flavor. It has served drinks consumed on the premises using reusable ceramic cups, not paper cups. Also, it has developed unique menu using local ingredients, such as a Teriyaki Burger using miso and soy sauce and a Rice Burger made with Japanese rice, as well as an original low-calorie hamburger that uses lettuce instead of a bun.

"Mos," stands for "Mountain, Ocean, and Sun." Its founder wanted the company to be a group of people with dignity symbolized by mountains, an open mind symbolized by the sea, and lasting passions symbolized by the sun. These concepts also express his belief that, in order to last, food-related businesses must act in harmony with nature because food directly affects human life and health.

One defining feature of the company is its effort to focus not only on the appearance of its shops, products and services, but to also pay attention to those parts of its operations that customers never see. It has given high priority to its relationships with food producers and agents that manage the shops, with the aim of promoting a switch to a sustainable society by working together. Two examples of its efforts are outlined below.

The first example is its farming business. Vegetables such as lettuce, tomato and onion are used in hamburgers served at Mos Burger, and good-tasting vegetables make for a good-tasting burger. Since its establishment, Mos Food Services has been working to procure high-quality vegetables, and in 1997, all shops started using vegetables grown by about 2,000 cooperating farmers who use as few chemical fertilizers and agrichemicals as possible, as a way of contributing to the health of the local environment. (Japanese Only)

The company signs a contract with a farmer only after staff of its farming business group visit the farm and assess the farmer's willingness to produce vegetables that meet quality standards and to sufficiently manage cultivation methods. Staff regularly visit contracted farmers to confirm the cultivation methods being used and to give guidance for improvement. Farmers are required to record the frequency of agrichemical use and the amounts of fertilizer applied. This data is compiled into a database for a farm information management system linked with Mos Burger shops. Using this database, each shop gets product information about the vegetables being delivered to the shop every day and displays it for customers' reference.

What led the company to start this farming aspect of its business was feedback from its customers that vegetables tasted different in different shops. Soon it began to study vegetable varieties in an effort to grow vegetables with a uniform taste, but it realized that using improved varieties was not the only solution. In view of the importance of soil, the company established its own experimental farm and started to research vegetable cultivation methods. Its accumulated know-how is used in growing vegetables for Mos Burger.

Based on its philosophy that Mos Burger can not be expected to grow without further development in Japanese agriculture, the company aims to promote agricultural reform in cooperation with local communities and producers by supporting farmers and fostering competitive farms. Cooperating farmers are sometimes invited to a Mos Burger shop to see with their own eyes people eating hamburgers, to give them a better idea of how to make popular ingredients. Moreover, the company has been providing farmers with various supports, such as an online shopping website to secure buyers of their vegetables that are not used by Mos. This service is provided because mixed cropping is one way to effectively minimize agrichemical use, so farmers need to grow vegetables for Mos Burger among other crops. Some farmers have found new customers due to the quality guarantee implied by their supply contract with Mos Burger.

The second example is the company's complete recycling system for vegetable waste. Mos Burger shops cook the food after an order is placed, and do not prepare cooked food in advance. Thanks to this serving style, smaller amounts of food are discarded. However, vegetable waste is generated every day because a lot of whole vegetables are used. According to a survey at a sampling of shops, an average of 3.9 kilograms of raw garbage is generated every day per shop. The company is working to build a system to recycle this vegetable waste into compost.

In February 2003, Mos Food Services conducted a two-month experimental project, in which food ingredients were delivered and vegetable waste picked up by the same truck at five Mos Burger shops in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. As the truck usually returns empty after making its delivery, carrying vegetable waste on the return trip does not use extra fuel and emits no extra carbon dioxide. The collected vegetable waste is processed into compost and distributed to customers at the five shops as soil for flower-growing sets given away on the shop's opening anniversary every year.

This project was conducted jointly with Ajinomoto Logistics Cooperation, which acts as the foodstuff distribution company for all Mos Burger shops, using a special vehicle that can mix and compress vegetable waste while running. The two companies are continuing with this initiative, having expanded the number of participating shops from five to eight.

In August 2005, the company launched a similar initiative at five Mos Burger shops around Nagoya district in Aichi Prefecture. Aiming at increasing the feasibility of vegetable waste collection, the Nagoya study used a normal delivery vehicle instead of the special one used in Sendai, and developed a method to carry vegetable waste and fresh vegetables in the same vehicle by sealing the waste in containers.

Moreover, Mos Food Services and a waste company in Tokyo have started a joint experimental project that calls on cooperating farmers nearby to receive vegetable wastes from 16 directly Mos-managed shops and process it into compost for growing vegetables to be served at the shops.

In addition to these efforts, Mos Food Services is developing several different recycling systems at 45 of its shops, where by 2007 it hopes to establish recycling systems like those currently in use at 15 percent of its shops. As for recyclable resources, the company hopes to coexist with existing waste treatment companies with which it now has contracts. It plans to avoid merely pursuing increases in its own recycle rate, but rather to establish and introduce the most feasible system that will put the least possible burden on the local community, in cooperation with other chain restaurants and convenience stores in the area.

Mos Food Services recently announced its plan to make all Mos Burger shops "Eco-Mos" shops by fiscal 2008. The Eco-Mos concept embraces security, safety, and care for the environment. The company has selected the color green to symbolize this concept, and has been changing the signboards of all shops from red to green. For Eco-Mos, the company is trying to create an amenable space with a comforting ambiance resulting from new wood-tone interiors. During a phased shift toward Eco-Mos, which started in 2004, the company has set criteria such as promoting either making shops all no-smoking or implementing effective separation of smoking areas, as well as providing higher quality, more balanced meals. (Japanese Only)

This article attempted to show that there are two lines of innovative food business management running through Mos Food Service. One is the way managers consider both customers' comfort and the environment, and the other is cooperation with suppliers such as farmers and other business partners who support the company's policy and management. The company strives to provide a bridge between humans and nature through their food products.

(Staff writer: Eriko Saijo)