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    Japan C-store Sales Rise in January

    Meanwhile, 7-Eleven parent Seven-Eleven Japan Co. complies with Fair Trade Commission probe.

    TOKYO -- Japan's same-store convenience stores sales in January rose 7 percent compared to a year earlier to 581.43 billion yen, up for the ninth consecutive month, according to the Japan Franchise Association, which was cited in a Kyodo news report.

    The sales boost largely stemmed from increases in the number of visitors to c-stores following the nationwide introduction last July of Taspo smart cards, which are designed to prevent minors from buying cigarettes at vending machines, the report stated. The number of visitors to convenience stores were up 7.6 percent at 975.68 million from a year prior.

    Many smokers opt to buy cigarettes at convenience stores to avoid the inconvenience of having to use the Taspo cards, according to the report.

    However, average spending per customer dropped for the second straight month to 595.9 yen, a 0.5-percent drop from the year before.

    In other international news, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. is complying with an investigation by the Fair Trade Commission for allegedly restricting franchise stores from discounting sales of boxed lunches and other food products close to their expiry dates, according to a report by the Japan Times.

    It is the first time the antimonopoly organization opened a full investigation into "member-store bullying" by the headquarters of a major convenience store chain since it announced new guidelines on the franchise system in 2002, the report stated.

    Lawyers representing Japan's largest convenience store chain said they are "not aware of infringement," but explained the sales instructors could tell franchise stores that bargain sales are "not favorable" because they may damage the chain's image of offering fresh produce and lead to competition with supermarkets, according to the report.

    But lawyers could not comment on whether the chain pressured franchise stores, as the FTC's investigation is still under way.

    Seven & I Holdings Co., the owner of the nation's largest convenience store chain, said in a statement it is taking the investigation "seriously."

    "We are fully cooperating with the authorities on the investigation," it said, refusing to comment in detail because the probe is still under way.

    The FTC suspects Seven-Eleven Japan of unjustly restricting member stores from selling off leftover "bento" (boxed lunches) and sandwiches at a discount to avoid throwing the items away, the sources told the Japan Times.

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