Restaurants have been reopening around the world even as partial lockdowns and social distancing change the rules of eating out. al fresco dining, disinfected utensilsand seating capacity limits may help curb transmission of coronavirus. but what about paper menus?

An antimicrobial menu with copper ions that are supposed to repel viruses sounds like the perfect solution. it is the latest innovation from japans low-tech paper companies, as they struggle to reinvent themselves. nippon paper started selling the product this month to restaurants.

Panic buying ahead of lockdowns in may boosted sales of tissues and household paper products for japans largest paper manufacturers including nippon paper and oji holdings.

But other than a couple of weeks of increased demand, the pandemic has merely accelerated the global shift to digital, diminishing the demand for paper. more people working from home means less paper use. us production of printing paper products this year fell as much as 40 per cent compared with 2019. there has also been a shift back to single-use plastic as a wrapping for some products.

There still has been heavy demand for paper packaging worldwide thanks to the growth of ecommerce during the pandemic. just not in japan. an ageing population unfamiliar with online shopping still prefers physical stores. japan's ecommerce market is relatively small, accounting for less than a tenth of total retail sales below that of china and the uk at well over a fifth.

Share prices of oji and nippon paper are down this year, the latter by more than a quarter, reflecting dwindling profits. nippon paper posted a 3.7bn ($35m) net loss for the second quarter. nippon paper hopes to sell 100m of the virus-repelling papers in the coming year. but even that revenue stream would not bring a turnround.

Technological change the adoption of digital payments, for example happens slowly in japan. that means reversing current trends take longer too. no wonder the industrys profits are paper-thin, as are returns for its investors.

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