Foreigners in business: Exporting fresh Japanese food by air

September 28th, 2010By Category: Starting a Business

We often take a look at foreign residents who have started their own businesses in Japan, branching out on their own. This story is of an Indian entrepreneur, who has launched a business to air freight Japanese vegetables and fish to other parts of Asia, keeping the products fresh using a special refrigerant.

The service has been attracting an increasing number of Japanese agricultural cooperatives and catalog retailers of organic vegetables that are eager to tap into the growing popularity of Japanese produce among the region’s wealthy.

Pankaj Garg, 44, president of Innovation Thru Energy Co, a venture company in Tokyo’s Marunouchi business district, launched the service in August in a tie-up with Japan Airlines Corp.

Acting as the coolant is the ‘‘ice battery,’’ which can maintain a constant temperature for much longer than dry ice by using multiple refrigerant plates.

The battery works like a ‘‘cooling pillow’’ used to provide relief to someone with a fever. Prior to shipping, it is cooled in a freezer.

Garg majored in information technology at an Indian university and came to Japan in 1988 to work for a major steel company. He acquired an appreciation for Japanese food culture when he ate sliced raw tuna for the first time.

As the years went by, he began to wonder why the producers of such tasty produce often led such hard lives.

From the steel company he then moved to the Japanese subsidiary of Intel Corp., a major U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, and studied technology for cooling a personal computer’s central processing unit.

It was in 2006 that he came upon the ice battery system developed by a Taiwanese research institute and decided to create a system to enable Japanese producers to export their products to first-class hotels and well-off Asian consumers.

JAL, which as part of its reconstruction efforts is aiming to develop the business of transporting high-class foodstuff by air, took note of Garg. In the summer of 2009, Japan Airlines International Co came calling.

Ryuhei Nomoto, manager of the company’s marketing division, was initially skeptical of the ice battery’s reliability. But an experiment proved that the preset temperature inside the storage box containing the battery could be maintained even in flight, where temperature differentials are pronounced.

Nomoto said, ‘‘The difference with dry ice is evident. I was surprised.’’ Through a process of trial and error, it is now possible to keep the preset temperature constant for up to 120 hours.

Garg said that in future he would like to create a logistics network in his home country using the ice battery.

“I want to address children’s health problems by delivering foodstuffs and medical vaccines while keeping them fresh,’’ Garg said.

Photo: Sakurai Midori / Wikimedia.  Story: Japan Today

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