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What Customers Want -Toto Consumers’ Co-operative-

Toto Consumers’ Co-operative is working on building bridges between sites of production and consumption in order to “fill the gap between food consumption and agriculture” and also is providing safe and reliable food to consumers in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. We visited them and asked them about their activities associated in particular with livestock products. This report summarizes the interview.

In 1967, mothers living in Setagaya Ward in Tokyo, who wanted reliable and safe milk, met with milk producers in Chiba and together they established the “Group for drinking natural milk.” Some of the group members then suggested establishment of a co-op store that specializes in handling of farm-fresh products. This then led to the establishment of Toto Consumers’ Co-operative in 1973. The Co-operative has been carrying out projects and activities to: ensure stable food acquisition and establish a reliable method to acquire food; establish eco-friendly and sustainable agriculture; and realize a society where eco-friendly production is appreciated. Currently, they are offering approximately 230,000 members in Tokyo and surrounding areas milk, farm-fresh eggs, beef produced from cows fed 100% home-grown feed, and additive-free processed meat such as ham and sausages. Beside these animal products, they sell rice, vegetables, and bread. The Co-operative often holds member participatory events such as visits or observation of production areas or manufacturers, public audits, tasting sessions, and study sessions. Through these events, the Co-operative collects opinions and requests from members and incorporates them into revision, improvement, or development of products.

History of Toto Consumers’ Co-operative and the basic policy

In 1967, mothers living in Setagaya Ward in Tokyo, who were concerned about distribution of low-quality milk currently on the market, came across safe and reliable natural milk produced by dairy farmers living in former Yachiyo-cho (currently Yachiyo City) in Chiba, and together they established the “Group for drinking natural milk.” The group then expanded its activities and offered opportunities for group buying of vegetables, eggs, and pork. In this group buying operation, some suggested establishment of a co-op store specialized in farm-fresh products. As a result, in 1973, Toto Consumers’ Co-operative was established. On its webpage (http:www.tohto-coop.or.jp/about/profile), the history after 1973 is described as follows:

“Toto Consumers’ Co-operative was established in 1973 to realize consumers’ wish to obtain safer and better products. With Fresh from farm, Collaboration, and Democracy ? For Protection of Life and Everyday Living ? as its philosophy, the Co-operative is carrying out business operations and activities surrounding farm-fresh product delivery in which consumers and Co-operative members who want high quality products and agricultural and fishery producers as well as manufacturers directly work together and question the way production, distribution, and consumption should be handled. The Co-operative not only handles farm-fresh and domestic products that can contribute to Japanese agriculture and improvement of self-sufficiency, but also group buying for providing safe and high quality products at a reasonable price and in a stable volume. With these businesses as the core, the Co-operative offers consumers and its members a wide variety of products and services that are necessary for daily living. The Co-operative also promotes Tsuchi-Zukuri Sengen (eco-friendry soil management) 21 Eco-Plan in order to realize comprehensive farm-fresh product delivery with producers in Tokyo and surrounding areas and also to collaborate with producers across Japan to realize society where daily living, agriculture, and environment protections can concurrently take place. Furthermore, the Co-operative works with producers and manufacturers to actively reduce dioxin and endocrine disruptors. In 2008, the Co-operative proposed implementation of the food future creation movement to secure the future of our important, life-supporting food. We are now in the process of creating new value of farm-fresh product delivery, in which consumers think about their consumption and living and take appropriate actions, through a wide variety of activities such as: implementation of the 20,000 people interaction / visit movement where consumers, Co-operative members, producers, and manufacturers understand other parties’ situation and reinforce trust among them; use of farm-fresh products and domestically produced products; and participation in product development.”

Livestock products Toto Consumers’ Co-operative offers

Milk is the leading product of the Co-operative, and they sell Yachiyo Non-Homo Bin Gyunyu (non-homogenized bottled milk) produced by the North Chiba Dairy Co-operatives introduced in another report. This milk is produced to meet members’ wish to drink fresh milk that is processed as little as possible, and, as described earlier, the Yachiyo milk series are the products that triggered the establishment of Toto Consumers’ Co-operative and have been sold for approximately 40 years since its establishment. Yachiyo Non-Homo Bin Gyunyu is non-homogenized milk. Raw milk is first filtered and then treated by the HTST (high temperature short time) method at 75ºC for 15 seconds at the milk treatment factory owned by the North Chiba Dairy Co-operatives. Milk treated by this sterilization method is believed to be the closest to fresh milk with all nutrition and flavor preserved. This milk is produced by dairy farmers who are members of the Co-operatives and who produce milk with particularly high quality. They feed their milk cows with feed including non-GMO grains and PHF corn as ingredients. Then, milk from the cows is collected and sterilized exclusively for this product. In this way, it is possible to identify the producers and milk cows of the product. Dairy farmers that produce raw milk and Co-operative members are actively interacting, and mutual understanding between producers and consumers has deepened. One of the examples of this is that, when feed prices dramatically increased and the producers were forced to raise the milk price, Co-operative members understood the situation and accepted the price change.

As for meat, the Co-operative deals with domestically produced meat from non-GMO grains-fed chickens, pigs, and cows. The Co-operative selects meat production sites so that they can provide the members with products with producer identification. In beef production, vaccines or hormone agents are not given to cows for 2 months prior to shipment. Furthermore, beef called “Kitasato Yakumo Gyu (Kitasato Yakumo Beef)” is produced from cows that are grazed when there is no snow on the ground in the Yakumo Ranch managed by the Field Science Center of Kitasato University School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Farming in Hokkaido. These cows are grown naturally and fed 100% home-grown feed. The meat is popular as it has a low fat content and light flavor. “Kitasato Yakumo Gyu” is produced in eco-friendly livestock farming where importance is placed on natural substance circulation in which cows eat grass grown amidst the air, water, and soil, and the cows’ feces decomposes in the soil acting as a fertilizer, and the cows then eat grass grown on that soil.

An animal farming guide with product specifications uniquely defined by the Toto Consumers’ Co-operative has been created, and products are produced in accordance with the standards. These standards are revised annually.

The Co-operative voluntarily sets a shorter/stricter use-by date on products than other distributors. Meat is usually packed in a 500 g pack, but due to aging of the members, some say 500 g is too much. Therefore, recently the Co-operative has begun selling 300 g packages as well.

As for trends in meat consumption by members, chicken consumption has remained the same while beef and pork consumption is decreasing.

The Livestock Products Division of the Co-operative also provides opportunities for producers and members to interact and collects members’ opinions in order to incorporate them into product development or quality improvement.