In the hope of vitalizing agriculture by reshaping its image, Fairy Angel set up a plant factory in the basement of a restaurant in Kitayama, Kyoto and started a business aimed at establishing a system for local production for local consumption where food miles were zero. Subsequently, the company purchased land to build a factory in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, with a view to selling products under the brand name of "Angel's Vegetables" on a large scale.
The company decided to build a factory in Fukui Prefecture because the prefectural government was eager to support the project with preferential treatment.
Fukui's Wakasa region highlights "food" to promote tourism. Fairly Angel's plant factory, which has become a major stop for sightseeing buses, attracts many tourists from the Kansai and Chubu regions.
Using sunlight as the light source was not an option from the beginning. The factory fully depends on artificial light for three reasons: (1) sunlight is economical but unreliable; (2) in a multi-shelf system, sunlight creates shadows and thus unevenness in the product quality; and (3) production with stable quality is possible if the environment is fully controlled.
The yield rate in the process from seeding to harvesting stands at 80%. Nine kinds of vegetables are grown in the factory: five kinds of lettuces and four other leafy vegetables. Spinach and bok choy may be grown as well. The plant can handle up to 10 kinds of vegetables, which is the limit to ensure sufficient lot sizes.
No pesticide is used at all. This is possible because of the production process at the plant factory. The vegetables are subjected to pesticide residue inspection for commercial credibility. The busy season for the factory is summer and December.
Products are shipped to retail sales (70-80%) and for processing or commercial uses (20-30%). Although having multiple customers would be desirable for business, too many customers will increase the risk of not being able to meet orders.
Vegetables produced at the plant factory offer many benefits to commercial customers. For example, their feature of not requiring washing brings a general cost benefit in places like food processing factories. However, such factories cannot do without a washing process because vegetables purchased from other suppliers need to be cleaned anyway. In such a case, the benefits of factory-grown vegetables may not easily contribute to the improvement of the customer's production process.
Individualized consideration should be given to business transactions with commercial customers. Although deals with large accounts often lead to large orders, such customers quickly change the product lineup, exerting an impact on the factory's production. For this reason, Fairy Angel currently does not accept such deals. Upscale restaurants, such as those at hotels, are willing to buy factory-grown vegetables even if they are expensive, as long as the chef likes the taste.
High-end products are mainly directed at department stores, but the company believes that selling to supermarkets is essential in order to tap a large market. At supermarkets, ¥158 is the mean price for leafy vegetables (discounted items are priced at ¥100 and high-end items at ¥198, for reference). With this in mind, the company managed to develop products available at ¥158 per 60 g pack, by reducing the weight per pack without changing the unit price. Unlike raising in open ground, where vegetables must be grown as large as possible and be sold at high prices so that farmers can remain profitable, the plant factory can operate profitably even with small products, just by increasing the production cycle.
Since even existing buildings can be converted into plant factories, vacant stores and facilities should be considered as potential sites for plant factories.
Cost reductions are possible by taking advantage of government support programs for electricity charges and employment.
Extracts from the Handbook of Practices at Plant Factories: Published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry