Plow A Land popularizing aged fish in Japan through retail packs

Some aged kanpachi from Plow A Land in packaging.

For a culture that prides itself on its fresh fish offerings, it’s no wonder that aged fish is not a widely popular option for Japanese consumers.

However, despite its lack of widespread adoption in the country, innovators in this sector are trying to stray from the norm, as is the case with two former classmates from Kanoya City, Kagoshima Prefecture.

Tsutomu Shimada and Takuhiro Hachiya founded Plow A Land Co. in the same city in which they grew up. After attending school together, Hachiya studied cooking at various restaurants, while Shimada got involved in marketing and editing. At the age of 38, they reunited to form Plow A Land, with the goal of making aged fish more accessible to Japanese consumers. 

“Aged fish was originally only available at high-end sushi restaurants and Japanese restaurants,” Shimada, the director of Plow A Land, said.

The company recently released several retail packs, including “kanpachi,” or greater amberjack, under its Roots Food brand.

“We did joint research with Kagoshima University in order to evolve the aging technology developed by our current company,” Shimada told SeafoodSource. “We were able to obtain very unique results from the viewpoint of food culture, and this was a great stepping stone for commercialization.”

Once the pair realized the type of product they wanted to focus on, they began to offer demos at local expositions. In November 2021, visitors to the Japan International Seafood and Technology Expo had the chance to sample its kanpachi, which is aged for six days.

“The product exhibited at the seafood show was still a prototype,” Shimada said. “Based on feedback from customers at the show, the product was further improved, mainly for consumer ease of eating, price range, package design, etc., and the current product was completed. Until then, the main concept was simply that ‘aged fish tastes better than fresh fish.’”

From that point on, the pair began to hone in on perfecting the techniques they now feature in their products. By studying components like how the texture changes with aging and when the umami flavoring is at its most delicious in the aging process, the company was able to match its offerings to the techniques that netted the best results, Shimada said.

The current series of offerings from the company includes three varieties. The kanpachi pack includes 80 grams of aged fish with a sauce package containing olive oil, light soy sauce, and pink pepper. It sells for JPY 1,056 (USD 7.98, EUR 7.37) including tax. The same amount of “madai,” or red sea bream, sells for JPY 1,252 (USD 9.16, EUR 8.43) with tax, and the sauce package contains olive oil, dark soy sauce, and wasabi. An 80-gram vacuum pack of “hirame,” or flounder, sells for JPY 1,368 (USD 10.01, EUR 9.21), and the sauce includes olive oil, juice of the “hetsuka daidai” (a local variety of citrus fruit), and rock salt. A gift set including one of each sells online for JPY 3,944 (USD 29.82, EUR 27.49) with tax. The refrigerated shelf life of the products is four months.

The production facility used by Plow A Land is a general temperature-controlled refrigerator.

“The important thing in maturing is to control humidity and temperature, so we put the fish in a special box for maturing,” Shimada said.

In order to reach its consumer base, Plow A Land has multiple sales channels, including the company’s e-commerce website, the website of Isetan Mitsukoshi – one of the largest department store groups in Japan – and Hankyu Department Store-affiliated sites. It has also partnered with Japan’s hometown tax donation program “furusato nozei.”

Shimada and Hachiya’s offerings are also available at the company’s two brick-and-mortar locations. Bee is a restaurant that offers creative cuisine and natural wines featuring local ingredients. Hacchi is a shop offering side dishes, lunch boxes, and hors d'oeuvres.

“We also wholesale matured fish to restaurants in Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kyoto for commercial use,” Shimada said. “I've had it used for a course meal at a Tokyo Michelin-starred restaurant. We are currently negotiating with high-end supermarkets in the Kanto area and high-end supermarkets in Hong Kong. From now on, if there is an opportunity, I would like to expand overseas.”

In 2022, Roots Food’s aged sashimi series “Born in Kagoshima” won the Prefectural Governor's Award, the highest award for Japanese food and craft companies, at the Kagoshima New Specialty Products Contest. Through winning competitions and awards, the company has received attention from various media outlets, and recognition is gradually improving due to steady sales promotion activities.

“If we can continue to simply pursue delicious food, which is the most important thing, it will not be unusual for local food like ours to be in the spotlight,” Shimada said. “In Japan, or in the world, there are probably many wonderful local foods that are not yet known. If we succeed and become one of the precedents that give hope to all local foods, then what an honor.”

Even though fresh fish remains an incredibly popular option for Japanese consumers, aged fish is ... 

Photo courtesy of Plow A Land

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