Controlled environment agriculture (CEA) company Oishii is best known at this point for its high-end, vertically grown strawberries that cost a cool $50 for an eight-pack. That makes the New Jersey-based company’s wares pretty inaccessible for many consumers — until now. Oishii explained this week that it will be launching an “everyday berry” in the future.
Strawberries are by many accounts the next “it” crop for CEA. As Oishii explained to Vertical Farm Daily, one of the issues with traditional strawberry production is that about 90 percent of all strawberries grown in the U.S. have to be shipped from California. To ensure safer transportation, the fruits are engineered to be resilient at the expense of quality and taste.
Oishii’s Omakase Berry, which the company grows in its vertical farm facility in New Jersey, is in many ways the antithesis of the traditionally grown strawberry. Omakase Berries typically only grow for a short part of the year in a very specific region of Japan, and they are known for their sweetness and strong aromas. They are also, as noted above, a very premium produce item and, in the case of Oishii, a very expensive one.
But now, Oishii is using its recently raised $50 million funding round to expand R&D and commercialize an everyday berry, with the goal of becoming one of the largest strawberry growers in the world. Oishii will apply the learnings and proprietary technology used to grow its Omakase Berry towards other strawberries as well as other crops, such as tomatoes and peppers.
Strawberries are one of the dirtier crops when it comes to pesticides, and more than one CEA company is now attempting to grow the fruit indoors at scale. Plenty announced a partnership with berry grower Driscoll’s last year. Meanwhile, a Singapore-based company called SinGrow is growing strawberries indoors to make the fruit more widely available in the city state without relying on imports.
Oishii said this week it will focus for now on local markets in northern New Jersey and New York, but also plans to build more farms in other cities and even countries.