Business in focus: Shima Wasabi
Wasabi has found the perfect home in Tasmania’s north west.
It’s a skill passed down through generations of Japanese; one not hastened to be shared. For Tasmanian Stephen Welsh, this meant his quest to become a wasabi grower would include plenty of trial and error as he embarked on his ambition to grow wasabi in Port Sorell, north west Tasmania.
Wasabi is certainly a niche market, and niche markets can yield ripe opportunities. However, this isn’t exactly your textbook business venture. And like most things related to wasabi, there were no short cuts in achieving the real thing.
It takes wasabi two years to grow to maturity, followed by a meticulous process of harvesting by hand. It took almost 10 years of research before Stephen and Karen Welsh had firmly established Shima Wasabi in Tasmania’s north west. Such dedication has paid off though, with Shima Wasabi now in demand in over 100 top restaurants around the country, with the Welsh’s current crop being the largest ever grown in Australia – if not the Southern Hemisphere.
The Welshes are driven by quality: a common theme of all Tasmanian produce. The Welshes grow pure Japanese wasabi (Wasabia japonica) in a climate-controlled greenhouse that behaves in the opposite way to a hot house, keeping the wasabi cool even in Tasmania’s warmer months.
So how does one choose to become a wasabi grower?
“I was working for the agricultural department in Tasmania, talking to those who were doing early wasabi research. The challenge of the crop, as much as the ability to develop it and cultivate new product lines, appealed to me. It’s so different to poppies, cherries, potatoes and other Tasmanian crops,” says Stephen.
Shima Wasabi has two main product groups. Historically, it was fresh wasabi direct to Australian restaurants, which still remains the major part of Shima Wasabi’s business, but it is freeze dried wasabi powder that is the most rapidly-growing part of the business. This is used for both home consumption and for flavouring manufactured foods.
“The freeze dried product we can deliver anywhere in the world”, Stephen describes. “It’s used in condiments, relishes, sauces and more. Ashgrove Cheese and Hill Farm Preserves use our wasabi locally. There’s even wasabi-infused ginger beer. Our dried wasabi spices are used by customers across Australia, Europe and Asia.”
You’d be amazed what you can do in Tasmania. For more information on starting a business in Tasmania, visit the Business Tasmania website.