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Biz / TechThursday, May 19

A Luscious Luxury

Plump, sweet, and already popular around Asia -- Japan's super-premium strawberries have arrived in Paris. But, for the berries to survive the voyage, some innovative ideas are needed.

Big and beautifully formed, sweet and lusciously juicy -- the skyberry, as it has been named, is no ordinary fruit. These super-premium strawberries are bought in Japan as luxurious gifts.

A company that runs a group of sushi restaurants recently began exporting these super-strawberries to its branch in Paris. Before the initial shipment, a final check was conducted at the farm.

The executive chef of the restaurants, Akifumi Sakagami, came to inspect the fruit himself.

The company has restaurants around the world, including London, New York and Hong Kong. Sakagami selects the ingredients used at all of them.

He knows that a premium product like skyberries will have international appeal.

"Foreign diners will love them. The vivid color, the size, shape and sweetness -- there's no other premium strawberry like it," Sakagami says.

But getting the skyberries to France posed a major challenge. Even shipping them by air, it takes at least 4 days to get them from the farm to the customer's plate. And they can spoil easily from the vibrations and shock in transit.

A team from Utsunomiya University worked with a local manufacturer to develop a special pack, to protect the strawberries from external damage.

Once the stems have been fixed on their base, nothing can touch the fruit. Kept refrigerated, they stay fresh for almost 2 weeks.

Sakagami holds high hopes for this innovative packaging.

"It will be just like eating fruit that's been freshly picked," he says.

The skyberries finally arrive at the Paris sushi restaurant. Without delay, they are served to the eager customers.

"They're like jewels," one guest says.

It's been 6 days since they were picked, but the fruit still taste superbly fresh.

Having made it to Paris, the center of global gastronomy, there are now plans to introduce the skyberry in other European cities, and in the Middle East.

For this premium fruit, the sky's the limit.