Meros is growing! Welcome Sachika Onaka Adcock as a full-time research analyst!

Meros is thrilled to welcome Sachika Onaka Adcock as a full-time research analyst! 

Sachika originally joined our team as a full-time intern in fall of 2023. Her background and interest in global markets and food systems and environmental science were the perfect mix for success at Meros.

Our team has been extremely impressed with her work so far exploring food loss in the apple value chain in Japan, investigating global schemes for protecting plant breeder rights and successfully supporting a Japanese company register for organic OMRI labeling in the US. She is now just back from a whirlwind field research trip in Southeast Asia with lots of stories to share. Her unwavering enthusiasm and curiosity is infectious and we are so pleased to have her on our team.

As she told us last fall, she was initially attracted to Meros because of the diversity of issues we tackle and its link to her core interests of both science and international affairs.

“Because I majored in physiology at university and took a minor in Earth Science, I had studied issues involved peripherally with food and agriculture. Specifically, I looked at food and nutrition in relation to human health along with soil science and challenges facing the agricultural sector due to climate change.”

“Within the very first week at Meros I realized just how much change and innovation is occurring within the food and agriculture sector. I am excited to continue to learn more about such diverse and various topics, including regulations and policies of different governments surrounding the food and agriculture especially as it relates to new and emerging agrifood technologies.”

Sachika is a graduate of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia where she studied Physiology and Earth Sciences. Sachika spent her childhood between Australia and Himeji, in the western area of Japan.

What are the hot topics in Japanese foodtech closing out 2023?

As 2023 draws to an end, three major foodtech topics Meros followed this year: the growing interest in circular economy, sustainability and Japan’s emerging cultivated meat sector, were all still front and center at the annual Foodtech Japan, Drink Japan and the Smart Restaurant EXPO at Tokyo Big Sight this month. Not only could we glean insights into where the Japanese market is focusing now, but we could also get a sense of what issues may be the hot food industry topics of 2024.

Circular economy and food loss

Initiatives and technologies utilizing ‘non-standard’ or discarded fresh produce are increasing. Projects are being seen everywhere, from large companies to start-ups. Meros has been working closely on food loss projects in the Japanese fresh food industry this year and so of particular interest to us was Astra Food Plan.

Astra Food Plan is a Japanese Series A start-up that uses superheated steam technology to dry food waste rapidly into powder. Astra Food Plan offers a range of examples, including lemons, onions, eggshells, and green tea leaves. Upon smelling the lemon vials, we were pleasantly surprised to discover a very strong smell of lemons, even in this powdered form, suggesting clear commercial applications.

A noticeable difference between Astra Food Plan’s idea and other circular economy-based products focusing on compost was that this is one of the dew start-ups focusing on upcycling and re-commercialization. Each dry food waste powder has tailored individual usages, taking into consideration their characteristics: the lemons for baking, the eggshells for high-end beauty products and green tea to mix with plastic, potentially to create rubbish bags that prevent odor. This diversity of potential commercial applications makes Astra Food Plan one we will continue to watch.

DX & the Japanese Labor Crisis

The reoccurring theme across all the events at the EXPO was DX (digital transformation), with many companies displaying AI-based products aimed at alleviating the strain placed on the food and beverage industry from Japan’s growing labor shortage.

There were certainly samples of the now-familiar delivery robots found in many Japanese restaurant chains – new prototypes of these ever cuter delivery robots were delivering boxed lunches to customers in the food court area of the event. However the more interesting innovation targeted automation for food manufacturing and central kitchens. For example, machines that automate the task of stir-frying were on display and may soon be found in industrial kitchens in Japan. Add the ingredients into this machine and it will then stir-fry the dish with no human help.

Sustainability: Including human rights and labor issues

Meros attended a number of seminars and a top topic was sustainability. For example, Ms Shihumi Takamori from Asahi Holdings Japan, producer of Japan’s #1 beer, presented on their domestic sustainability initiatives and policies and also discussed some of their challenges in this space. Seeing such major Japanese food companies taking center stage to speak bluntly about sustainability issues would have been rare just two years ago. But there is a growing movement among the major Japanese manufacturers to take global sustainability issues more seriously.  

A few takeaways from this seminar were:

  • The five pillars of Asahi’s sustainability global policy are environment, communities, responsible drinking, health and human rights.
  • Asahi has initiatives covering each sustainability pillar at each stage of their supply chain (sourcing, distribution, manufacturing and retail). For example, one of the issues of concern under human rights is the working conditions of truck drivers in their distribution system. An example initiative to address this is collaboration between Asahi, Kirin (Japan’s other giant brewery), and Japan Rail (JR) train services for distributing their beers. This kind of collaboration between companies (even rivals!) as well as effective use of the Japanese train system is likely to be of increasing importance, as the industry anticipates the shortage of truck drivers in Japan to become a ‘very hot’ topic in 2024.
  • However, Asahi Holdings feels there is still big differences between Asahi Japan and their international companies in terms of sustainability progress. Asahi has purchased numerous major beer brands in Europe, Australia and elsewhere in recent years and Takamori admitted that differences in sustainability policies and the progress towards sustainability goals within the Japan parent company and their international business is something they continue to tackle.

Cultivated meat in Japan

This has been a major area of interest to Meros this year, as we worked on several market assessments for international clients interested in Japan’s cultivated meat industry and also mentored the award-winning cultivated seafood start-up Forsea, as they explore Asian markets.

We were particularly interested in a seminar featuring the CEOs of two of the four main Japanese cultivated meat startups: Diverse Farm and Organoid Farm.

The key takeaways from Mr Jiro Ono, CEO of Diverse Farm and Ms Taeko Yamaki, CEO of Organoid Farm, included:

  • Cultivated meat is not yet commercially available in Japan but to create solid legislation for the manufacture and sale of cultivated meat, safety requirements, providing a sense of security (to consumers and stakeholders), licensing and labeling are the critical areas that must be agreed on.
  • There is still debate about the different factors and perspectives to consider when choosing which animal cell to cultivate. They cited research that suggests cultivated chicken meat actually has a carbon footprint 4% higher than conventional chicken, compared to the significant decrease in the carbon foodprint of cultivated beef (down by 92%) and pork (down by 52%). However when considering animal welfare, cultivated chicken has arguably the biggest improvement compared to conventional chicken.
  • The Japanese industry has a goal of harvesting over 1 ton of cultivated meat, but still faces significant challenges in scaling up.

Looking ahead

In 2024 Meros will continue to track the topics of circular economy, sustainability and the emerging cultivated meat industry in Japan.

We also expect to keep an eye out on the issue of shortage of truck drivers and other labor issues in the supply chain as well as follow the growing discussions on biodiversity as a critical aspect of sustainability initiatives. Meros, a co-founder of the Japan Impact Investing Network (J-IIN) will be holding a series of webinars on natural capital, including biodiversity in 2024 and we invite you to follow our page and the J-IIN page on LinkedIn for updates.