Leftover fish for lunch? Students scale their ideas with Bentō to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are gaining momentum in various areas. An initiative that is gaining popularity in Japan is the “Fish SDG” to reduce food loss and waste in the fishing industry. At a fish market, a wholesaler adopts ideas from young people to make the most of resources and revive the traditional Japanese seafood diet.

Wholesaler teams up with college students

At Yokohama Nanbu Market in the city’s Kanazawa district, Yokohama Food Service Co., Ltd, a seafood wholesaler that also operates the Yokohamaya Honpo Dining restaurant, is working with Yokohama City University students to develop new products and systems to help achieve the UN SDGs. In October 2021, the company obtained Marine Eco-Label Japan certification for its processing and distribution of marine products.

Yokohama Nanbu Market has both wholesalers and retailers selling seafood, fruits and vegetables, and fresh flowers. The building on the left houses a variety of restaurants, including Yokohamaya Honpo Dining.

The poster on the left proudly announces that Yokohamaya Honpo Dining serves MEL-certified seafood.
The poster on the left proudly announces that Yokohamaya Honpo Dining serves MEL-certified seafood.

Yokohama Food Service aims to further contribute to the pursuit of UN goals by reducing food loss, finding ways to use leftover tuna and salmon generated in its processing systems. More than 20 tons of offcuts are generated each year when cutting blocks of tuna sashimi. Previously, scraps, stripped of bones and gristle, were sold to specialty dealers at around ¥17 per kilogram.

The leftovers left after processing tuna and salmon are often quite meaty, and Seto Kiyoshi, president of Yokohama Food Service, was convinced that there had to be better ways to use them. He consulted Shibata Noriko, a marketing researcher and associate professor at Yokohama University, and together they decided to have his students collaborate with the company to co-develop new products that would use leftover fish.

Professor Shibata's students discuss ways to better use Yokohama Food Service products.
Professor Shibata’s students discuss ways to better use Yokohama Food Service products.

Application of Food Research Expertise

Professor Shibata’s marketing seminars were already well known for their food orientation. In 2021, its students won second place in the National Agriculture Competition, in which university students present their research on Japan’s agriculture, food, communities and agricultural cooperatives. In another economics-related intercollegiate competition, a student team of Professor Shibata came out on top among 132 competing teams.

In this context, Professor Shibata’s students soon decided to collaborate with Yokohama Food Service to launch a project to promote seafood consumption in Japan. Lifestyle changes spurred by the COIVD-19 pandemic have caused many young Japanese people to avoid eating fish and other seafood. Focusing on this recent trend, the group set out to reverse it all promoting sustainable development goals within the seafood industries.

Meanwhile, Yokohama Food Service had already launched its own initiative to reduce food waste by creating fish burgers made from minced tuna and leftover salmon to sell alongside the fresh fish and other foods offered by Yokohamaya Honpo Dining. . However, using leftover fish did not mean the new product was cheap. Production involved removing every piece of edible meat from fish bones, a time-consuming and expensive process. As a result, the fish burgers were expensive. Additionally, the company struggled to link the new product to the SDGs. At this point, the students chimed in with suggestions on how to encourage shoppers to try the fish burgers. “It was the students’ idea to advise customers to fry the fish burgers in sesame oil,” Seto explains.

Packs of salmon and tuna burger patties (packs of five are ¥580; all prices are exclusive of consumption tax).
Packs of salmon and tuna burger patties (packs of five are ¥580; all prices are exclusive of consumption tax).

The “SDG Bento Box”

Shibata students set out to develop bentō lunch boxes using the new fishcakes. After many meetings with the company over six months, they came up with five varieties. Under the collective brand Osakana Obentō, or “canned fish meals”, the new meals are advertised as “good for the body and good for the environment” and are promoted as SDG meals.

Shibata students pose with their SDG bentō boxes the day before the new products go on sale.
Shibata students pose with their SDG bentō boxes the day before the new products go on sale.

One of the five offerings is a tuna or salmon loco moco burger bowl resembling the popular Hawaiian dish. Each bowl features a fish burger smothered in brown gravy on a mound of mixed-grain rice topped with a fried egg, colorful bell pepper and avocado slices, and cherry tomatoes.

Another selection is the tricolor salmon bentō which is equally colorful, with toppings of shredded sweet and sour pink salmon, green spinach and scrambled eggs over white rice. The three trims are applied on a new appetizing diagonal. The students who designed this bentō box did so for Instagrammable effect, convinced that its appearance on social media will help raise awareness of the SDGs. “We never would have thought of this or the loco moco bentō box,” Seto says admiringly. “These youngsters really know how to make these dishes appealing.”

The loco moco burger salmon and tuna bowls are priced at ¥498.  The students say the idea came to them in a café.
The loco moco burger salmon and tuna bowls are priced at ¥498. The students say the idea came to them in a café.

The tricolor salmon bento box with its striking striped design costs ¥450.
The tricolor salmon bento box with its striking striped design is ¥450.

The premium Osakana Gozen bentō is the most expensive of the five prepared by students, but its contents are well worth the price. The box contains a tasty assortment of fish burger with salmon, fried horse mackerel, grilled tuna with Saikyō miso paste, chikuwa fish paste tempura rolls, pieces of Kamaboko fish paste, fried tofu and egg omelette that rival the best makunouchi varied bentō box. Proudly said one of the students: “We tried to include as many fish products as possible – grilled, fried and pâté fish, as well as tempura. It’s definitely a complete meal.

The Osakana Gozen is priced at ¥598. The box label proudly proclaims,
The Osakana Gozen is priced at ¥598. The box label proudly proclaims, “Developed jointly with Shibata Seminary students at Yokohama City University.”

SDG Containers as well as Content

The bentō containers, including the one in the “retro” offer containing salted salmon, fried chicken pieces, chikuwa mini tempura and red sausages are all made from biodegradable plastic containing 30% plant biomass. The containers were also the idea of ​​the students who saw no point in using SDG ingredients if the containers remained the usual plastic type.

The five SDG bentō varieties debuted at a Yokohama supermarket on December 1, advertised with eye-catching posters designed by the students. The meals have already proven themselves with local customers and will continue to be sold in supermarkets throughout the year, with the exception of the end of year and New Year celebrations.

Looking back on the project, the students say, “Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals seems like a big task until you realize you can start small.” They also urge people to “try our bentō lunch boxes. We are sure that you will feel the satisfaction of having “achieved an SDG”.

Handmade posters by students have a special appeal.
Handmade posters by students have a special appeal.

Yokohama food service staff who worked with the students agree. “We learned that the creative approach of the students was more effective than traditional one-way marketing techniques that are imposed on the consumer. It’s important to take these youthful sensitivities into account when trying to get young people to eat more fish, which has always been a mainstay of traditional Japanese cuisine. We will continue to work with students to rekindle the popularity of seafood products.”

The students are particularly proud of their success. “I’ve always preferred meat, but after working on these bentō I realized how tasty and nutritious fish can be,” says one of the band members. “I will continue to promote the appeal of fish and other seafood, and the need to fight for sustainable development goals.”

The students enjoy the lunch boxes they have created.
The students enjoy the lunch boxes they have created. “Once they’re on sale, I’m going to buy one of each,” says a team member.

(Originally published in Japanese. Photos by Nippon.com.)

Previous InnovaFeed expands pet insect business
Next Researchers get closer to creating an algae bioreactor