Is Corporate Food Service a Good Bonus for Japanese Employees?

How do you spend your lunchtime at work? Earlier, all members of the office took their lunch at the same time, mostly at the company cafeteria. But this has become difficult due to changes in people’s workstyles, leading to workers being unable to eat healthy meals at the right times. Many workers become so-called “lunch refugees” (people who cannot find a place to eat lunch) or are forced to “eat alone at the office.”

“Office Okan” is a small-scale corporate food service that can be installed directly in the office. This novel solution that can satisfy working people’s needs is now being rapidly adopted by an increasing number of companies. This unique service involves installing a refrigerator in the company’s office so that employees can eat vacuum-packed ready-made dishes whenever they want and as much as they want, in any combination they wish.

Office Okan’s representative Sawaki talks about how Okan is redefining corporate benefits and how companies can offer employee benefits that are more in line with new workstyles.

Why do we need Corporate Food Service?

 Office Okan’s representative, Sawaki
Office Okan’s representative, Sawaki

Office Okan is a unique corporate service that provides healthy meals that are easy to prepare. But the origins of this “healthy, easy meals” idea come from unhealthy eating habits.

During his first job after graduation at a consultancy firm, Mr. Sawaki, Office Okan’s representative, had an extremely busy work schedule, working 400 hours to 500 hours a month.

He describes, “I had difficulty finding time to eat a proper meal and would satisfy my hunger by eating snacks in between work. Since I was neglecting to eat properly, my health worsened to the point where I was receiving warnings on many of my results for my medical check-ups.”

According to Sawaki, he was so engrossed with work that he kept on overlooking his healthy by repeatedly forgetting about his meals. As he realized what he was doing, he also realized that there were many people like him; people who were forced to give up on eating healthy just because “they are busy,” or “have no place to eat,” or “can’t afford to buy food.”

It was then that he started looking for a way to provide healthy meals during busy work hours and that’s how the business model for “Office Okan” was born.

Office Okan partners with companies that produce ready-made dishes from all over Japan. The company ensures that all the food they use meets specific criteria concerning production area and additives.

Since microwave foods tend to lose their flavor due to high-temperature pasteurization, Office Okan also came up with an alternative method of providing food in vacuum packages, which can be stored for 30 days in the refrigerator.

storing food for long time

Are you a “Lunch Refugee”?

In just 2 years since its foundation, more than 250 companies (as of January 2016) had adopted Office Okan as a service, which emerged as clear proof of the immense need for this new corporate service.

According to Sawaki, “As our workstyles become more diverse, there have been changes to how we take our meals as well. People no longer take their lunch breaks at the same time and are increasingly eating their meals in between work. In the capital area, there are many people who cannot eat what they want when they want. Things have gotten to the point where so-called “lunch refugees” has become a thing.”

Lunch Refugee

Also, since the population is so dense, one either has to wait in long lines to get lunch or by the time one finally finishes work and goes out to eat, the lunch service is already over. And if your office is located in a high building, it might take you a long time just to get to the ground floor and get lunch.

Additionally, opening a company cafeteria is very expensive and the maintenance cost is overwhelming. That’s why many companies have recently closed their cafeterias or reduced their business hours to cut costs. Clearly, this situation does not match the current work style.

Office Okan’s Unique Food Solution

The key to this problem is to provide meals that can be easily eaten inside the office in between work, without going outside. And Office Okan is catering to exactly that. The vacuum-packaging of ready-made dishes in 100-gram portions has also allowed Office Okan’s service to fill a variety of needs, while also flexibly adapting to fit the needs of each individual.

People can combine Office Okan’s ready-made dishes with rice for a full meal or pair one of the dishes with a lunch box they’ve brought from home. In fact, there are many people who not only eat them at the office but also take them home.

Office Okan's Unique Food

The best part is that the company provides a wide variety of dishes for as little as 100 yen each. Many of those dishes like mackerel simmered with miso, meat and potato stew, and taro tumbles, if cooked at home, take a lot of time and effort, which is also what makes the Office Okan’s packages more popular. Furthermore, all these dishes also retain a homemade feel, unlike the usual microwaved products, thus making them more desirable.

Office Okan has received special appreciation from working mothers in particular since they can add one more dish to their meals at home and reduce their housework. In fact, the company can offer an effective solution to all those people who want to continue working while raising children, which is greatly beneficial for companies as well.

Food is the New Benefit for Employees

Office Okan’s services have been recognized as a benefit that increases employee satisfaction, which is why the company has won the highest award at the “HR Awards 2015” for human resource departments in Japan, under the “Professional Category, Personnel, and Labor Management Division.”

Sawaki explains that in the past, employee benefits usually focused on offering an “escape from ordinary life,” like providing luxurious retreats or gifting them stays in a high-end hotel at a discount price. However, according to him, this will not work today. What people need today are benefits that can support their ‘daily lives’.

While previously, “work” and “life” were viewed as separate parts of life, today’s employees consider their office time as part of their (daily) lives. That’s why Office Okan likes to use the phrase “work-food balance.”

Okan’s food services

Sawaki adds, “There is a change in values, where more and more people are changing their workstyles by focusing more on their “individuality” and “individual happiness.” People are also realizing that there’s no sense in working if it makes you unhappy. That’s why companies also need to provide the kind of support that fits the lifestyles of their workers and enables them to lead happy and fulfilling lives. To attract talented personnel, companies need to show that they can be flexible too. Thus, Office Okan’s goal is to cultivate a culture where companies support the lifestyles of their workers.

With its services, Office Okan is also helping out working women. As women become more empowered in society, there is an urgent need for companies to support working women dealing with childbirth, childcare, and housework. Office Okan is trying to boost this support to working women by helping them out with one of the most critical & time-tacking areas of housework- cooking meals.

How to Make Your Employees Feel at Home in the Office?

As a company whose mission is “to enrich the lifestyles of working people,”  Office Okan has also been striving to create a better environment for its own workers as well.

Sawaki says, “Our company aspires to provide a model case for others to follow. We first want to create a comfortable environment for workers within our own company, so that we can draw on this experience to suggest diverse workstyles for others. As a part of this effort, we moved to a new office that reflects two concepts- ‘Family Work’ & ‘Welcome Home’.

The ‘Family Work’ concept expresses our commitment to people supporting each other as they work. This concept means that people can communicate easily at the office and can work comfortably as if they were at home.

Feel at Home while working at Office

On the other hand, the ‘Welcome Home’ concept signifies the creation of a space where everybody can feel at home. Welcome Home is mainly intended as a message for visitors to Office Okan’s office, implying that they want them to feel at ease every time they visit.

Ideally, Office Okan wants to accommodate a diversity of workstyles with the hope that the company and its workers can support each other as they work through various problems, thus putting their own philosophy into practice to realize their company’s mission.

In fact, some of their employees have their own parallel careers working for different companies, and some of them are even working remotely from Kyoto. Some are also working while raising children. Basically, all the workers at Office Okan are leading diverse workstyles without worrying about the constraints of time and place.

Sawaki says, “We hope we can keep tackling these challenges so that we can become a model case for companies who are considering introducing such measures themselves.”

Leveraging on “Business to Employee” Market

According to Office Okan’s representative Mr. Sawaki, the company’s mission is ‘to enrich the lifestyles of working people.’ To achieve this properly, the company also aspires to contribute towards providing basic infrastructure besides food, including clothing and housing, healthcare, and education.

Mr. Sawaki explains, “In addition to providing services, I want to cultivate a culture where the company supports the lifestyles of each individual worker. That is why we emphasize the need for the HR staff of our customer companies to explain to their employees why they decided to introduce Office Okan’s service into their offices.”

company supports the lifestyles of employees

An office is a place where most people tend to spend the majority of their time, making it a key factor in providing food services. Hence, services can evolve by focusing on places where people tend together, which is why offices might continue to be an important point of contact with customers in the BtoE (Business to Employee) market. Office Okan aspires to make the best use of this very market.

Since working environments will continue to change going forward, workstyles will change too, always being accompanied by new challenges. Mr. Sawaki says that Office Okan hopes to look at things from the perspective of working people, identify the new challenges that arise as times change, and offer solutions that meet their needs, thus becoming a model case that leads the way for workstyles of the future!

Text: Madoka Makida
Photo: Ryosuke Iwamoto