By Masashi Nira / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKIHOKU, Mie — Tomato juice produced with hopes of revitalizing a local town has attracted a lot of attention after it was served to world leaders during the Ise-Shima Group of Seven summit meeting in May.
Dealk President Shu Iwamoto manages four plastic greenhouses in the Miura district in Kihoku, Mie Prefecture, where the company is based. The company annually produces about 30 tons of tomatoes — all fully ripened on the vine — in the greenhouses. With high sweetness and moderate sourness, Dealk’s tomatoes are popular among local residents.
The company’s product, called 200% Tomato Juice, was served at the summit meeting. It is made from fully ripened tomatoes by simmering them for more than seven hours at low temperatures between 60 C and 80 C. The juice has a rich flavor, but it is smooth to drink. Despite the high price of ¥3,480 for a 500-milliliter bottle, the juice is very popular and even has a waiting list for customers.
Making a dive into agriculture
Iwamoto, 30, moved from the town of Obu, Aichi Prefecture, in 2009. After graduating from university in Osaka Prefecture, he studied in the United States. While he was away from Japan, his parents moved to Kihoku, hoping to live in a place rich in nature surrounded by mountains and oceans. Iwamoto followed suit after returning to Japan.
“I ended up living in the town where my family home is,” he said.
Back then, the economy was in the doldrums following the 2008 collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers, prompting several companies to enter the farming business.
Iwamoto recalled how he began his current business, saying: “There’s no end to demand for agricultural produce. Then I realized that I had just moved to a town abundant with nature, so why not go into farming?”
At the beginning, it was only a casual idea. But as he immersed himself in an internet search, he learned how to grow hydroponic tomatoes using a nutrient solution instead of soil, and sensed underlying potential in the production technology, sales and distribution channels of agriculture.
As only a small number of farmers practice the hydroponic method in the prefecture, Iwamoto visited institutions such as the Mie Prefecture Agricultural Research Institute in the city of Matsusaka to learn the basics.
Masahide Isozaki, a principal researcher at the institute, said, “In addition to the knowledge and technology of the method, Iwamoto also diligently studied such things as greenhouse structure, liquid feeding systems and how to cut cultivation costs — covering everything necessary.”
Hoping to contribute to the vitalization of the town, Iwamoto ordered iron pipes from a local ironworks and built two greenhouses by himself on a plot of land owned by his father. His first harvest finally came in late July in 2010 from the seeds he sowed in early May.
“I was so happy I couldn’t explain how I felt,” he said, recalling when he took the first bite of a tomato he grew.
Iwamoto sells his tomatoes mainly at markets in Kihoku and neighboring Owase in the prefecture, with the hope that they will be consumed within 24 hours after being harvested. He mainly grows tomatoes about the size of table-tennis balls, aimed at elderly people living alone.
In 2014, he began producing the 200% Tomato Juice.
“The philosophy of ‘local production for local consumption’ sounds good, but the reality is just money circulating within local areas,” Iwamoto said.
“I wanted to develop a niche product targeting high-end consumers to bring in ‘outside money’ from urban areas,” he added.
Once, in an attempt to double the thickness of the juice, he simmered the tomatoes longer, but the sourness and bitterness also doubled. By using trial and error for about half a year, he finally reached what he describes as “a luxurious taste of the highest quality and an extreme sweetness” that satisfied him.
After the juice was served at a Tokyo restaurant run by a manager from Kihoku, Iwamoto started receiving orders one after another. He started selling his product online from September 2014 and had sold about 1,000 bottles by the end of September 2015.
In late April this year, he received a request from the Foreign Ministry via the Mie prefectural government asking to prepare the juice for meals and hotel rooms in the main venue of the Ise-Shima summit meeting. The juice was served to the participating leaders during coffee breaks among other occasions. Compared to the pre-summit period, sales increased about threefold, but because the juice is all handmade, daily production is limited to 20 bottles.
Address: 157-4 Miura, Kihoku,
Phone: (0597) 31-0058
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