Damn, that’s sweet: Controlled environment agriculture company Oishii has opened the world’s largest vertical strawberry farm at the old Anheuser-Busch factory in Jersey City, growing strawberries five rows deep in the retrofitted 74,000-square-foot facility.
The expanded growing capacity will allow the company to decrease the sticker shock on its berries, which until May 18 sold for $50 per 11-pack of medium berries at high-end grocery stores like Van Hook Cheese & Grocery in Jersey City and Montclair. As of May 19, the 11-pack price has dropped to $20, with six-berry trays at $11 and three-berry trays at $6 also available.
Making the berries more affordable was “the whole purpose” of expanding operations and focusing on efficiencies, Oishii co-founder and CEO Hiroki Koga said.
“This is something we planned since day one of our business and what we’ve been working toward for the past five years. We’re super excited to make this accessible to more people,” he said.
The Jersey City facility consumes 60% less energy and 40% less water than the first-gen technology created and used at Oishii’s R&D facility in Kearny.
Koga entered the vertical farming industry more than a decade ago when it was still a very young industry in Japan, and after coming to the United States for his master’s degree, decided to bring a Japanese cultivar of strawberries to the masses here. Oishii first introduced its Omakase Berry, which quickly caught the attention of both Michelin-starred chefs and consumers for its sweetness, aroma and creamy texture, in 2018.
A challenge? No one was producing vertically farmed strawberries en masse in this country before Oishii set up shop.
“The biggest challenges that we always run into is that leafy green technology has been around for 20 years. There are places to look for for, places have done it before, and there are construction companies that have built [vertical farms for leafy greens], and there are systems you can buy. But the thing with us is there’s no one – we can’t consult with anyone. We have to [approach building the farms] very logically, and execute not knowing if it’ll work or not. It’s a continuous trial and error,” Koga said.
The build-out of Oishii’s Jersey City farm, which is located at 101 Linden Ave. E., took shy of a year. Koga said farm construction within the industry can take up to two to three years per facility, but Oishii’s secret sauce is that it has its own in-house construction team, which is incentivized to work quickly and work lean.
“Now, it’s just a matter of how quickly can we deploy these farms across the world,” said Koga.
The Kearny R&D facility will remain open, but many of its employees have shifted over to Jersey City. Close to 100 employees will work out of the new location, and approximately 30 will stay at Kearny Point.
The new facility won’t fulfill demand for Oishii’s products, and Koga said both New York metro-area farms and farms in other cities are coming down the pike. New produce is on its way, too, specifically tomatoes and melons.
“We’ve figured out how to grow the world’s sweetest tomatoes, so it’s a matter of time. Melons are after tomatoes,” he said.
Following the launch of the new production facility, Oishii’s berries will soon be available in the upcoming Whole Foods Market store opening in New York’s NoMad neighborhood. The berries will be available at that location on June 1.