From Iceland — The Japanese Entrepreneur Making Iceland Sweeter

The Japanese Entrepreneur Making Iceland Sweeter

Published May 9, 2024

The Japanese Entrepreneur Making Iceland Sweeter
Photo by
Joana Fontinha for The Reykjavík Grapevine

Kenichi Noda brought Japanese strawberries to Iceland, with plans to introduce even wider range of Japanese foods 

It’s a Friday afternoon in April, but a space in the Ocean Cluster House in Reykjavík’s Grandi district is buzzing with people. Entrepreneurs, embassy representatives and the media are all waiting for a special event to begin — a strawberry tasting. The berries at the centre of the spectacle travelled to Iceland all the way from Japan. Here, they were planted and harvested, promising to be among the sweetest strawberries ever tasted. 

“This is my first time growing strawberries,” admits Kenichi Noda, COO at strawberry grower iFarm, in his opening speech. “But I’m confident I can grow strawberries that taste great.”

With a background in human resources and career development at Fujitsu, Ken, as he prefers to be called in Iceland, admits he was burned out by corporate culture in Japan. “I wanted to feel excited,” he says. “My business partner invited me to set up this company. I’ve always wanted to work overseas some day. That’s my dream come true.”

Sweet sweet business 

iFarm was established in November 2022 in Japan, with the Icelandic subsidiary founded in May 2023. The company became the first resident of the Iceland Eco-Business Park in Helguvík, co-founded by the Iceland Ocean Cluster. The park aims to offer facilities for a thriving circular economy in Iceland.

“People often ask me why we do business in Iceland,” Ken says, explaining that it comes down to a combination of proximity to Europe, affordable energy prices and renewable energy resources. “We can operate sustainable systems with zero CO2 emissions,” he says. “Investing in a sustainable future is important. We should create production systems with minimal environmental impact in Asia, too.”

The tasting event on April 12 marked the first harvest of Japanese strawberries grown in Iceland. The seedlings used for this harvest were imported directly from Japan. It took 10 days for them to arrive and, according to Ken, the courier service has never handled similar deliveries before. Having arrived in Iceland in the middle of December, the seedlings were initially very weak, but they eventually recovered and started growing day by day. 

Next year, the company is hoping to start production from seeds. The monthly production volume of iFarm is expected to grow from 70 kg to 500 kg by 2026. 

Savouring ICHI-GO

During the presentation, Ken admits that when talking about his business, one of the most common questions he gets is, “Why Japanese strawberries?” 

“We want to try growing other Japanese foods in Iceland.”

Producing over 160,000 tonnes of strawberries annually, Japan is the 11th largest grower worldwide, but when it comes to consumption they rank first. But it’s not just about numbers. Japanese strawberries, or ichigo, are very different from strawberries from other countries: they are very sweet, have a good acidity balance and softer skin. 

The variety grown in Iceland is “Beni Hoppe,” sold under the brand name “ICHI-GO.” The name, as Ken explains, comes from “‘Beni’ meaning beautiful red and ‘Hoppe’ standing for a Japanese idiom that describes a taste that melts in your month.”  

Beni Hoppe is the latest strawberry variety to meet Japan’s Seed and Seedling Law to be allowed for export to Europe and America.

According to Ken, what makes iFarm different from existing strawberry producers on the market is their commitment to quality. iFarm doesn’t use any chemical pesticides. Strawberries are harvested in the morning and delivered directly to the consumer the same day. “Icelandic greenhouse strawberries cannot be harvested year round,” he explains. The Japanese strawberries will be harvested all year. 

iFarm is planning to start sales of strawberries in June, with starting prices of ICHI-GO Diamond at 13,000 ISK per kg. Lower classes of strawberries — those that might not be perfect in shape or size — will be offered from 5,000 to 8,000 ISK per kg.

Thinking ahead

Together with two business partners who are currently in Japan trying to raise extra funds, Ken hopes to expand the range of Japanese products grown in Iceland beyond strawberries. “We want to try growing other Japanese foods in Iceland. For example, Japanese rice,” says Ken. “We’d like to use Japanese rice to make Icelandic sake.”

It’s not just words — the company has already acquired know-how, allowing them to grow Japanese rice in Iceland, with plans to start in October.

Ken believes that there are many similarities between his home country and Iceland. “Both Iceland and Japan are island countries. They have a similar character,” he says. Moreover, Ken shares that Iceland is becoming more popular with Japanese tourists, including students. However, most Japanese students don’t opt for continuing education in Iceland as even for a part-time job that would help them sustain themselves during their studies, they would need a work permit. iFarm will be working to change this, facilitating more opportunities for Japanese youth in Iceland.

“Next time, I want to set up a business with Icelanders. Iceland is a small country and Japan is a small country. It only makes sense for us to collaborate,” says Ken.

“One of the things we want to do is open a Japanese restaurant. Of course, we’d use Icelandic fish and the Japanese rice grown in our factory,” he says of iFarm’s future plans. “We already have the desert — our strawberries.”

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!

Show Me More!