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Japanese company launches ice pops using persimmons headed for the garbage heap

Persimmon ice pops are seen in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Higa)

KURUME, Fukuoka -- A travel agency in this southwest Japan city has launched ice pops using local persimmons that would otherwise have landed in the garbage.

    The ice pops are part of Hanako Travel's anti-food waste initiative, launched as the business was being pummeled by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The company aims to make the most of available resources, and build a win-win relationship between producers and consumers.

    The pandemic hit just as Hanako Travel, founded in March 2019, was getting on track, serving the needs of inbound tourists from East Asia. With no foreign tourists, founder Kazuyuki Suyama, 62, turned his attention to food waste. During popular tours around orchards and farms in Kurume and the neighboring city of Ukiha, he learned that some of the area's high-end fruit was discarded as unfit for market.

    The company then created ice pops for sale using the Amao strawberry variety and Kyoho grapes. They are luxury fruits, but the ones used for the ice pops had failed inspection because heavy rain had damaged the bunches or the fruit was too small, among other reasons. These ice pops were launched in May, and more than 10,000 of them have been sold.

    The rare persimmon ice pops, launched in late October, uses the Soshu and Fuyu varieties harvested at the Yamaguchi Noen farm in Ukiha. According to the farm, though they are perfectly edible, persimmons that have gone partially soft are not market grade because the entire fruit quickly goes soft as well, limiting shelf life. These persimmons account for about 1% to 3% of the harvest, and farmers either had to throw them away or sell them at knockdown prices at fruit stands before they went entirely soft.

    Though the ice pops with fruit tops are expensive -- 464 yen (about $4) apiece including tax -- because they are additive-free and produced in small lots, their vivid persimmon color and elegant sweetness have enthralled consumers.

    Suyama commented, "Japanese food is cheap from the perspective of inbound tourists. I think this (the persimmon ice pop) will become popular when foreign visitors return after the pandemic."

    The ice pops are currently available at limited locations including the flagship store of high-end supermarket Nakatsuru in Kurume, but the company is considering direct sales at a tourist farm.

    Hanako Travel also plans to start selling new ice pops using "ginjo" sake lees in January 2022, making the most of Kurume, a major sake-brewing area.

    (Japanese original by Hiroshi Higa, Kyushu News Department)

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