Seven & I Plans to Farm; Sanyo Doubles Battery Output

Japan's top retailer Seven & I Holdings said on Thursday it would start farming to sell vegetables at its Ito-Yokado stores in response to shoppers' increasing consciousness of food safety.

Japanese consumers' yearning for domestically produced goods has intensified after a food scare earlier this year involving pesticide-contaminated dumplings imported from China.

"Most of the vegetables we sell are already Japan-made, but our customers' needs are shifting more and more towards domestically produced goods, so we are responding to that," a Seven & I spokesman said.

"We have been selling vegetables produced by contract farmers, but we have judged that we can ensure safety more by going one step further into production and supply ourselves," he said.

Seven & I operates about 180 Ito-Yokado stores in Japan, generating annual fresh food sales of around 100 billion yen ($927 million). The scale of its agri-business would be one of the biggest by a corporation, according to the Nikkei business daily.

Seven & I plans to start farming from summer and will eventually set up 10 farming firms across the country.

It could also expand the sale of the vegetables to group companies in the future, including Seven-Eleven convenience stores and Denny's restaurants, the spokesman said.

Sanyo Says to Double Rechargeable Battery Output

Separately, Japan's Sanyo Electric said on Thursday it plans to double annual production of AA and AAA size rechargeable batteries as more consumers choose the economical and environmentally friendly option.

Its shares climbed as much as 5.5 percent on the news.

Investors have recently been picking up shares in battery makers as they see an increasingly rosier future for rechargeable and car batteries amid surging oil prices and worries about global warming.

Sanyo, the world's largest maker of lithium-ion batteries used in personal computers and mobile phones, plans to expand output of nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries to 50 million a year at its existing plant in the current business year that started on April 1.

The company, which is restructuring with the help of shareholder Goldman Sachs, has said it aims to lift sales at its rechargeable battery and solar cell operations by 50 percent to 600 billion yen (US$5.6 billion) under its current three-year business plan.