The Luxury Strawberry Edition
On climate, R&D, and the future
Colin here. If you’ve frequented Japan, you know that fruit is often given as gifts and can come at wincing price points. I remember walking through the Precce grocery store in Tokyo Midtown and marveling at the square watermelons that cost as much as a Michelin-starred lunch for two.
A new startup is trying to bring the Japanese approach to fruit to the rest of the world, and their process and larger ambitions are worth watching.
The strawberries that Oishii makes have a slightly paler pallor (different from the mortal strawberries you are used to), and lack any disfigurations and bumps like the Driscoll’s at your local supermarket. They are characterized by their sweetness, noted as 2 or 3 times of a normal strawberry. But the actual product is a stalking horse for a larger farming process that could revolutionize other types of agriculture.
Why is this interesting?
Monocle recently did an essential deep-dive on the company. And turns out it is a combination of technology, pollination, pesticide-free growing, and innovations around vertical farming that are what the company is solving for. In other words, it’s not just a gimmicky luxury fruit company.
The magazine explains:
This is a Japanese berry, a varietal that, like some secret algorithm, can’t be disclosed but is typically grown in the country’s northern alps. The ones on Koga’s table were produced a few dozen feet away from where they sit, in a setting with climatic parameters that have been tuned to a location 11,000 km away. “These berries still think they’re in Japan,” says Koga. Next to them are the raw materials of Oishii’s process: a small shoot grown via in-vitro fertilisation and suspended in a clear nutrient-rich gel; and a larger plant resting in a proprietary growing medium.
Oishii figured out how to allow bees to pollinate in a controlled, indoor farm environment which has been notoriously hard to do. It has also recreated the specific climatic contexts and parameters in which the berry in the wild would typically grow. It is also solving for some sizable challenges for traditional agriculture coming down the pipe. As the article explains, in a world of “disrupted supply chains, an increasingly volatile climate, rising fertiliser and labour costs – vertical farming, which offers year-round growing, less water consumption and no reliance on pesticides, looks increasingly attractive.”
So while it is easy to write off a luxury strawberry startup as a sign of market excess, this is merely their first proof of concept. And surely there are more problems to solve and further ideas to cross-pollinate. (CJN)
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Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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