MIYAZAKI – A speedy veggie service in Kyushu is growing popular with wealthy Tokyoites hungry for greens they feel are safe to eat, raising expectations the delivery business can improve the fortunes of regional farmers.
Vegeo Vegeco Inc., a startup based in Aya, Miyazaki Prefecture, stocks Kyushu-grown produce, including organic vegetables, at a Tokyo warehouse for delivery by motorcycle in as little as an hour once an order is placed via its Vegery smartphone app.
Since the service debuted in January 2017, it has spread via word of mouth, sending sales of the venture company up 15-fold over the past year. It also runs a standard retail shop in the Nezu district in Bunkyo Ward.
“I wanted to build a scheme to promote the charm of vegetables and make the business profitable for rural farmers,” said Soichiro Hirabayashi, the 26-year-old president of Vegeo Vegeco.
The Miyazaki native started selling vegetables and fruit from his hometown for use in smoothies about five years ago, when he was still in university. After volunteering his help to rebuild the Tohoku region after the 2011 mega-quake and tsunami, he began to think about ways he could leave his own mark on his home prefecture.
At first, Hirabayashi planned to become a farmer. But he changed his mind after the president of a company where he had interned recommended that he start “a business that will please as many farmers as possible.”
The startup curbed distribution costs by conducting procurement and delivery on its own. This gave farmers more of the profit, with one seeing more than 30 percent growth.
The app and the shop in Nezu provide customers with information including the names of the growers and how they cultivate their vegetables.
Fuminori Kori, 62, who grows organic carrots, burdock root and other produce in Aya, said he has since “become aware of the value of vegetables we grow.”
In January, Hirabayashi began taking on a new challenge in Aya — reviving fallow farmland to grow vegetables. He aims to help young people start careers in agriculture by renting plots abandoned by elderly farmers.
“Techniques can be taught and the sales channels are secured. I want to lower the hurdles (for young people) to start farming,” Hirabayashi said.