Farm-fresh produce delivery goes online

by Asako Takaguchi

Kyodo

A growing number of consumers are purchasing fresh vegetables and fruit online directly from farmers.

Ayako Kakumoto, 36, a company employee from Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, began ordering vegetables six months ago on the My Farmer website operated by Tokyo-based mobile phone content developer Cybird Co.

“I started shopping on the site as I became conscious of where vegetables are grown following the (March 2011) Great East Japan Earthquake,” Kakumoto said.

The earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, fueling fears of radiation contamination in food.

Kakumoto said she likes the vegetables she purchases from the site, explaining that the green peppers, for example, “are very thick and taste the way I believe peppers should taste.”

Cybird launched the service in 2010 and has attracted about 12,000 members, mainly women in the Tokyo metropolitan area, according to the company.

On the site, members can purchase vegetables and fruit produced by around 60 farmers from Hokkaido to Okinawa.

Less than 10 percent of the members order products on a regular basis under the “private farmer” system, according to Cybird.

The company runs a vegetable market in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward every month that brings together its contract farmers.

“We wanted to create a system that allows consumers to feel safe about purchasing vegetables from specific farmers,” said Rikiyoshi Yoshida, who founded the service.

The site posts pictures of the farmers along with explanations about where and how the vegetables and fruit are grown.

Cookpad Inc., which operates the Cookpad recipe posting website, also started a site called Yasaibin (Vegetable Delivery) in 2012 in response to requests from users who wanted ingredients for the recipes they found on Cookpad.

On Yasaibin, members can search for vegetables offered by around 50 farmers and shops across Japan.

“The site has helped me a lot, especially when I’m too busy to go shopping,” said a 40-year-old Japanese language teacher in Tokyo who receives vegetables from Yasaibin every other week.

Hiroaki Miyoshi, an executive officer at Cookpad, said, “We ask our contract farmers to select seasonal vegetables so that members will not get tired of our products even if they order every week.”

The operators can deliver fresh produce to consumers at reasonable prices as sourcing directly from producers allows them to cut delivery times and costs.

The system also benefits contract farmers as the operators are responsible for marketing, billing and shipping.

“Even when we grew great produce, it was difficult for us to let people know or build a market as we had little time to do it,” said Takahisa Fujino, representative of a farmers’ group called Agriinno Co. in Okayama Prefecture whose products are popular on Yasaibin.

Fujino also said that the consumer feedback on Yasaibin encourages and motivates the group’s farmers.