“going out to have a healthy meal is directly linked to employee satisfaction and productivity”

Bon appétit

Edenred Japan contributes to employee health and satisfaction


Text by Gavin Blair /  Photos by Benjamin Parks

Imagine a scheme that boosts productivity, employee health and loyalty; costs just ¥200–¥300 a day; and is essentially tax free. Surely employers would jump at the chance to sign on the dotted line, particularly those in a country facing chronic personnel shortages and productivity levels that lag those of its OECD rivals. Edenred believes it has just such a solution for Japan in its Ticket Restaurant offering of lunch support for employees.

The Paris-headquartered multinational launched Ticket Restaurant in France in 1962. It was inspired by the UK’s luncheon voucher programme. Edenred now operates in 42 countries and, in 2016, processed transactions worth €19.8 billion, earning €1.14 billion in revenue. The global firm offers solutions — such as employee benefits, fleet and mobility solutions, corporate payments, incentives and rewards, and public social programmes — for companies, employees and merchants.

Edenred’s move into Japan came in 2012 with its acquisition of Barclays Vouchers, the only company offering lunch vouchers here. Ticket Restaurant is currently its only service in Japan, though others may be rolled out in the future.

“In Japan, almost 60 million people go to work every day,” says Malik Roumane, CEO of Edenred in Japan. “That makes it a big market for us.”

Roumane was appointed head of Japan operations in July 2017, and is currently on his third stretch in the country, where he has spent 17 of the past 25 years.

At the core of the Ticket Restaurant solution are monthly vouchers worth ¥7,560, with the cost split evenly between employer and employee, to be spent on lunch at 58,000 participating eateries and convenience stores across the country. Because such benefits are not counted as income for employees, there aren’t any taxes imposed on the company’s contribution.

A longstanding tradition in many Japanese households is for men to be given a monthly allowance, known as okozukai, and this has been a keenly-observed barometer of consumer spending power. Having peaked at around ¥77,000 during the bubble era (the mid-1980s to the early 1990s), it is now around ¥34,000, notes Roumane.

“People save on many things, including lunch,” says Roumane. “You can eat a bowl of noodles at your desk and then take a nap. But this is not good. You need to spend time for lunch — you need to go out and walk, interact with your colleagues. These are all related to health and employee satisfaction. And we want to contribute to this.”

Although there is nothing to stop workers using the vouchers to gorge on fried foods or snacks, Edenred also provides advice to both users and restaurant partners as to the benefits of healthy options.

“By doing what we do — by providing additional purchasing power and at the same time educating employees about healthy food — we believe that, more and more, they will make the choice to eat better, rather than just more,” suggests Roumane. “With an extra ¥200 or ¥300, many will then choose a piece of fruit or yoghurt.”

Roumane sees the combination of the current labour shortage, the productivity shortfall, and a traditional tendency towards paternalistic capitalism in Japan as creating an environment ripe for the adoption of the Ticket Restaurant solution.

“When you give an employee a benefit, you will have more gratitude than if you were giving the equivalent in cash,” Roumane says. “This is because you are sending a very clear message: I care about you, I care about your health. This helps with employee retention. In Italy, seven out of 10 employees say that the meal support scheme has a positive impact on the working atmosphere.”

Although not mandatory, it is taken for granted that employers pay the commuting costs of their employees in Japan. Roumane would like to see companies’ support for better eating become equally as standard a practice.

“We know that going out to have a healthy meal is directly linked to employee satisfaction and productivity. And productivity in Japan is a big thing; but it is not where the government would like it to be. With the population decreasing, the only way to find economic growth is through productivity gains,” points out Roumane. “According to the International Labour Organisation, there is the potential to increase productivity by up to 20% through better food for employees.”

And meal support does a lot for the economy as well. In Brazil, where Edenred’s solutions have widely been adopted, more than €2 billion is injected in the economy through meal vouchers every year. In Belgium, the amount is €1.2 billion. In France, in 2014, some 110,000 jobs in the restaurant and food retail sector were created thanks to the meal voucher solution.

The Japanese government’s current focus on work-style reforms to create healthier working environments is something Roumane sees as dovetailing with Edenred’s Ticket Restaurant. Together with other contributing factors, he believes the growth potential in the largely untapped Japanese market — with its legions of salaried workers — is significant.

Edenred is also upgrading the user experience. It already has a smartphone app that displays partner outlets in the vicinity via an on-screen map, and is in the process of adding further functions.

Worldwide, 70% of payments are now made digitally. In Japan, digital payment through a card was only launched just over a year ago and is developing well, according to Roumane. While Edenred recently rolled out payment by smartphone in France and Spain, the concept itself is still in its preliminary stages in Japan and is currently being considered by Edenred Japan.

“We need to convince all stakeholders that it’s important for people to eat well,” says Roumane. “This sounds obvious but, depending on the country, it’s not always the case. In Europe, where our solution began 50 years ago, supporting employees’ lunches is considered a must.” 

“you are sending a very clear message: I care about you, I care about your health”