After a roughly two-hour drive from the capital city of Indonesia's Lampung Province, through a trackless, mountainous region surrounded by cassava fields, you will be greeted by an unexpected sight. There, seemingly in the midst of nowhere, sits a surprisingly modern factory. And it's a big one too, covering some 400,000 square meters, or about 8.5 football fields. It is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation called PT. Fermentech Indonesia (FTI).
FTI mainly produces two products. One is a ribotide, a nucleotide that is commonly used as a flavor enhancer. The other is curdlan, a polysaccharide used as a gelling agent and food additive. Although unfamiliar to most of us, these products are found in many of the foods we buy every day from our local supermarket or convenience store. FTI's products are sold to a variety of food manufacturers all over the world.
Work at the factory is a constant battle to satisfy the finicky appetites of micro-organisms. Even the slightest difference in temperature, water quality, or the quality of the syrup (sucrose or sugar cane molasses) that the micro-organisms feed on will affect the fermentation process. All the more reason for the workers to celebrate when they produce a good batch of either product.
All of the factory's employees live together at its on-site dormitory. The cheerful nature of the local Indonesian workers has made the Japanese employees feel welcome and helped acclimatize them to the restrictive environment, and together they have formed strong, trust-based relationships.
“The environment here is very conducive to Japanese and Indonesian employees working together,” says FTI President & CEO Yosuke Uchida, who was transferred to the company in February.
Vice President Osamu Kikuno agrees. He feels that there is great potential in the food sciences, and that working in this field can be extremely motivating. Many people around the world are experiencing health problems due to old age or alergies, and there's no shortage of those who have to avoid certain foods. There will always be a demand for healthcare foods that taste good and are easy to eat, as well as old favorites that can be made with substitute ingredients to guarantee safety without compromising on flavor or quality. Consumer needs change with the times and differ from one region to another, but the MC Group is monitoring those changes carefully, and is committed to developing newer and better food products.
“By increasing selection and delivering the tastiest options, we can help to grow healthier and happier populations,” says Mr.Kikuno. “I'm looking forward to doing more to improve people's diets and quality of life.”
Despite the skills of FTI's employees and the company's best efforts to provide an accommodating workplace, there are times when the fermentation does not go very well. But the workers understand how valuable patience is when battling the elements, and they have no intention of giving up.
This article appeared in Asahi Shimbun's "GLOBE" feature of August 7, 2016.