Hiroki Iwasa belongs to GRA Co., Ltd., which produces the premium strawberry “Migaki strawberry” believed to be a “popular gem” in Yamamoto-cho, Miyagi Prefecture. What is the future of Japanese agriculture that Mr. Iwasa, who has contributed to local rebuilding through IT and branding, is seeing? In the first part, I will ask about the topic that Mr. Iwasa is currently focusing on and the thoughts behind it.
-Please tell us how Mr. Iwasa founded the company.
In March 2011, the earthquake in eastern Japan heavily devastated my hometown, Yamamoto town, Miyagi prefecture. More than 600 people, 4% of the population, died and 125 of the town’s 129 strawberry farmers were swept away.
At the time, the town’s budget was 4 billion yen, while the strawberry shipment value was 1.5 billion yen. Strawberries are a tremendous economic phenomenon in Yamamoto Town, and they are the pride of the people as a symbol of the town. After running an IT company in Tokyo, I founded GRA Co., Ltd. with the goal of reviving the strawberry industry and making it a world-class industry because I want to contribute to the reconstruction of the local area. Phuong.
-What measures did you take to build a luxury brand?
Since I had no experience in farming, I first learned about strawberry making from a local owner. What I discovered was that it took 15 years to master the craftsmanship created by experience and intuition. That makes it difficult to create new jobs. We have studied two measures for structural reform.
We have accumulated data thoroughly and analyzed how much we can harvest in the environment and how it affects the taste. Furthermore, it is mechanically controlled so that it can reproduce the ideal growing environment found through analysis. The status of the strawberries is then captured in real time and the PDCA is filmed in detail. We focus on bringing the field of experience and intuition into science.
With the cooperation of buyers from department stores in Tokyo, we worked together to create a brand that both sold and listened to their opinion. To add added value, we pack them one by one as premium chocolate and label it “Migaki Strawberry”. “Amaou” and “Tochiotome” are trademarks of many, and their taste and shape change with the season. On the other hand, since Migaki Strawberry is a quality brand, we ensure quality by conducting daily quality checks and selecting for each farm and breed produced.
As a result, Migaki strawberries have grown into a brand that sells for 1,000 yen / nut and we recently established the year-round “ICHIGO WORLD” growing facility and are challenging production regardless of the season.
– Tell us what you are focusing on right now.
Currently, there are three topics that we are focusing on.
To increase the number of people who start farming in the countryside, we will turn all the intuitions and experiences of the mulberry masters into manuals and provide science-based support. The target audience will spend a year learning the know-how and, upon graduation, will become an independent strawberry farmer.
Currently, in the third term, the participant’s attributes are diverse, such as young people who want to work in the countryside, the second career after retirement, and the new business of the company. system. We use highly detailed data aggregated annually by multiplying the general agricultural standard by the knowledge of the masters. The characteristic is that the PDCA can be tuned by formalizing truly detailed data such as time, temperature, sun direction and carbon dioxide concentration. By applying technology to areas with high personality, as many people as possible can start farming at a rapid rate and we aim to revive the region.
By using technologies like AI and deep learning, we are trying to replace human work and, by expanding, increase the number of farmers better than humans.
We especially focus on harvesting robots. Of the cost of producing strawberries, 50% is the cost incurred in the process from picking to packaging. I am researching whether the job can be mechanized. In addition to hiring local researchers, we are conducting research in collaboration with external parties such as universities and engineering organizations.
Currently, we are working hard to increase the proportion of Japanese strawberries in the ASEAN region, which are very familiar with Japan. An interesting example, when consumers compare the taste of Singapore, Japanese strawberries are rated as the best at an overwhelming rate compared to other domestic products. However, the actual proportion is less than 1%. It does not sell at all compared to strawberries in the US and South Korea.
The simple reason is the high price. And regional competition in Japan was shifted overseas, and the brand was not conceived as a Japanese product. All other countries with the highest market share are a country and a brand. Now that the domestic market is shrinking, feeling of crisis, we have to form a single Japanese brand and find a way to export.
Currently, the export rate of our sales is about 10%. Since there are large regulatory, climate, and cultural differences depending on the country, we use a different method from Japan from actual production to distribution and sales. We want to apply that knowledge not only to our company but also to the strawberries of other manufacturers and ultimately other agricultural products.
Therefore, it is important how to demonstrate leadership in Japan. The main agents of leadership are dispersed in Japan, such as the national agricultural experiment station and the agricultural management department of the autonomous cities. I have not seen a clear answer yet, but I would like to merge to export abroad as a cross-regional alliance.
– What are your thoughts on each topic?
There are many diverse activities, but the basis of all is a desire to contribute to the local community and Japan by solving social problems. Currently, Japanese agriculture is in a difficult situation when the market is shrinking, the average age of agricultural workers is 67 years old and the production population is decreasing.
Given that situation, we want to increase the number of new farmers by rapidly increasing the number of players, increasing profits through technologyization and developing sales channels and markets through overseas export.
Initially, the project was started from an NPO corporation with a desire to revive the affected local area, so I am very eager to contribute to the local and Japanese by solving social problems.
I think the scale of social problems is the size of the market itself over the medium to long term. That is why I want to be patient and face this subject.
Part 2: What is the “polarization” that Japanese agriculture should be aiming for in order to maintain food diversity?
Born in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture in 1977. The CEO of GRAK Co., Ltd. started his career while attending university and is now
He is the head of six corporations in Japan and India.
After the 2011 East Japan earthquake, the GRA was created with the aim of rebuilding the heavily damaged hometown of Yamamoto Town. “Area regeneration” focusing on gardening advanced facilities will become an important job. We will change the strawberry business structure and produce “Migaki strawberries” for 1,000 yen / seed. His books include “1% chance of reality in 99% despair” (Diamond) and “Sweet and Sour Management” (Bookwalker).