In the first cross-cultural venture of its kind, NRE World Bento,Inc., a California subsidiary of Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., Ltd., will produce organic and natural prepared Bento meals, using U.S. certified organic grains and produce as well as naturally raised beef, pork, poultry and seafood, for export to Japan.

At a press conference in the state capital, the company announced an equity partnership with Lundberg Family Farms, the state's leading producer of organic rice, and announced plans to build a food processing plant in Fairfield, California.

"The organic food movement is in its infancy in Japan, with educational campaigns and labeling regulations just beginning," said Jeffrey Schnack, president of NRE World Bento. "By tapping in to the abundance of high-quality organic products available here in California and utilizing Japanese production technology, NRE World Bento will introduce a line of traditional-style, healthy, ready made meals that are flash-frozen and delivered to the Japanese marketplace."

Consumer desire for "safe" food has been rising and Japanese companies are facing expectations to meet higher standards on the environment, safety and other issues. By establishing production in the leading country for sustainable agriculture, NRE World Bento seeks to advance the important concepts of American cuisine and America's integrated food quality management systems in Japan.

"We are proud to partner with NRE World Bento in this effort to fully link the American family farmer and the discerning Japanese consumer," said Terrence Barber, director of the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office in Japan.

Bento meals typically include rice, protein and vegetables and are attractively assembled and packaged for consumer enjoyment in out-of-home settings, such as railway dining cars, sports stadiums, and office lunch breaks. Japanese consume an estimated 6 million bentos per day.

Production in the Fairfield plant will begin in May, 2001, with initial plans for 10,000 meals to be manufactured daily. In the first year, the plant is expected to produce six types of bento (chicken, pork, beef, salmon, shrimp and crab), three types of rice pilaf and three types of soup.

NRE World Bento, Inc. is the first United States venture and a majority-owned subsidiary of Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., Ltd. (NRE), one of the leading food service companies in Japan. NRE's principal activities include dining car operation of bullet and express trains, buffets and in-carriage food operations; high-level Japanese and Western restaurants, family restaurants and fast food operations; in-station and street bento and food sales; hotels and related operations; food distribution and wholesaling and; general transport and real estate activities. NRE is principally owned by the East Japan Railway Co., Ltd.