While bento boxes may have a reputation in the US of A as a creative way to pack a kid’s lunchbox, the history (and future) of bento boxes goes much further than that. Starting in Japan nearly a thousand years ago, bento boxes have been used to take food to work, to serve food on trains, bring lunch to school, then purchased at convenience stores and bento shops — yes, there are shops solely dedicated to selling bento boxes. Bento boxes are so big in Japan, you can even get them out of vending machines.
Presentation, Presentation, Presentation
It is said that the Japanese eat with their eyes. It makes sense then that in traditional Japanese culture plating and presentation are crucial. In the bento world, you’ll even see clever designs on the packaging as well as on the food. (Check out these bento art photos on Instagram to see what we mean.) It can be appetizing to see bite-sized food organized by type or color in a way you’d expect, or maybe not expect.
No Waste (Or Compostable Waste)
In Japan, you’ll find bento boxes made out of everything from disposable plastic to reusable lacquerware. In many cases, you can have your bento box meal delivered, which will arrive in a lacquerware box, and then the restaurant or delivery service will return to collect the box later that day. The same thing is starting to happen in North America. In fact, one of our neighbors in Boulder, Colorado, Kelley and Ping, delivers meals and returns to pick up the dishes.
If that’s not your thing, but you are still interested in providing bento meals at your restaurant or facility, a quick search reveals countless compostable bento box packaging options.
Bento Boxes Are An Opportunity For C-Stores
Here in the states, Asian restaurants may have had bento boxes on the menu first with fast-casual brands adopting them in the last couple of years (e.g., Pei Wei), but we see a real opportunity for American convenience stores to adopt bento boxes now. Why not take advantage of good-looking packaging that makes it easy to provide a variety of portion-controlled foods with customizable options to boot? Bento boxes have worked in Japan for millennia. Now it’s time to give them a try at American convenience stores, too.