The Agenda: Business - Issue 173 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

mobility ––– sweden

Cool runnings


An electric snowmobile might sound risky: if its batteries fail in the cold, wouldn’t it leave you stranded on the tundra? But Swedish start-up Vidde says that it has a solution. Its electric snowmobile, the Alfa, is currently in its last stages of testing and monocle recently took it out for a spin in Jukkasjärvi, Swedish Lapland. All clean lines and appealing finishes, the Alfa has a frame that’s partly made from a timber-based biomaterial and whizzes along with a refreshing lack of engine rumble or fumes. Its batteries, made by Swedish manufacturer Mattr Collective, promise a range of up to 100km on a single charge. Crucially, the Alfa features an intelligent heating system that keeps these batteries warm, increasing their charging speed and helping them to last longer. And that’s not to mention its zippy acceleration and option of adjusting the seat for comfort to suit different types of terrain. Vidde has about 300 pre-orders and is hoping to start deliveries later this year, with the goal of producing 1,000 units in 2025. The current cost to reserve an Alfa is €26,200.

music ––– serbia

Gig economy


“For most bands, Serbia hasn’t been a tour stop for years but I believe that it has a lot of potential,” says Dmitry Zaretsky, the co-founder of concert agency Honeycomb. He’s acting on that conviction by promoting shows in Belgrade for the likes of UK indie stalwarts Bombay Bicycle Club, punk-popper Yungblud and even Ed Sheeran, who will give an outdoor performance at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. 

For Serbian music fans accustomed to being ignored by big international tours, the change has been welcome. But it might not have happened without Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to the demise of Zaretsky’s previous business. Pop Farm had promoted shows in Russia for everyone from Billie Eilish to the Arctic Monkeys, as well as Moscow’s Bol festival. Zaretsky was among the thousands of creative Russians who chose Belgrade as their location for a restart. “Serbia’s mentality is similar to Russia’s and the language is simple for us to learn,” he says. And with no initial visa requirements, it’s easy for his compatriots to start businesses here. Honeycomb now operates in 12 countries, including Greece and Romania, but Belgrade remains its base. “It’s full of people who love music, so why not bring it to them?”

f&b ––– japan

Makiko Ono
CEO, Suntory Beverage and Food


Makiko Ono is the first female ceo of Suntory Beverage and Food, a Japanese company with revenues of more than €9.6bn last year whose global portfolio includes Ribena, Schweppes and Lucozade. Within its home country, it sells 120 million cases of Tennensui mineral water, 100 million cases of Boss Coffee and 61 million cases of Iyemon green tea every year. Suntory is increasingly focusing on water conservation and plastic reduction. monocle spoke to Ono at the company’s Tokyo office. 

Where do you see areas of growth in Japan?
Though Japan’s population is declining, it’s a huge, mature market that appreciates novelty. To cater to its ageing society, we’re bringing in value-added products called Food for Specified Health Use [For example, Iyemon Tokucha, a green tea drink that helps to lower body fat]. Sugar-free tea drinks and bottled water hold large market shares in Japan and there are vending machines everywhere, so people can buy them any time. 

What are your major challenges?
Suntory Group has a target of using 100 per cent sustainable pet by 2030. Water is a top priority too: it’s our most precious ingredient. We have been working on things such as water sanctuaries and a water-education programme. 

How do you keep the business growing globally? 
We have two growth streams: inorganic, which comes from m&a or partnerships, and organic, which comes from polishing existing brands. We’re trying to do more to share the strengths of the Japanese business with other regions and, in turn, import best practices.

The Japanese side does a lot of research and development. We want to bring that to other places. Boss Coffee is a unique product that has given us expertise in making canned and bottled coffee, so we are expanding it into Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam, and maybe Europe in the future. 

How did you begin your career? 
When I joined Suntory in 1982 I was in a team that was acquiring a French winery and other international companies. No woman had worked abroad in our company but I was keen to go overseas. So I was sent to Paris, where my role was to manage the winery and a cognac company that Suntory had acquired. I needed to learn about production, management and finance, and deal with banks – something that I wouldn’t have experienced in Japan unless I’d been in the finance division.

How can Japan bring more women into the top level of management?
Women can lack confidence even when they are just as capable as men and there are unconscious biases at play. Companies could offer flexibility in working hours. Positive discrimination is unpopular but we are trying to nurture female talent and build career plans for women.

What’s your vision for the company? 
More than half of our sales and profits come from our international businesses. But we are also a Japanese company and want to keep that specialness, which makes us different from our peers, such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.

retail ––– uk

Having tapped into the demand for temporary retail spaces in London, Paris and New York since 2014, Ross Bailey, the founder of Appear Here, is now taking on a whole high street with his latest project, Deptford Market Yard. “Through Appear Here and the 30,000 pop-up shops that we have launched around the world, we had a good idea of the streets that people wanted to be on,” says Bailey. “It wasn’t Oxford Street or Fifth Avenue. It was the likes of Broadway Market in east London. The smaller streets were key. So we thought about creating our own.”

In 2023, Bailey found a site in need of love in Deptford, southeast London, where there were about 20 spaces for retail or restaurants under old railway arches. He seized the opportunity to shape a street that would unapologetically be part of the community, tapping into chefs and creatives who were already active in Deptford, rather than bringing in outsiders to disrupt the neighbourhood’s existing character.

Freshly baked
Under the bridge
Kekaki Izakaya

“We looked at areas of London such as Brixton and pockets of east London that are undergoing rapid gentrification as examples of what not to do,” says Bailey. “Yes, we wanted the project to feel slightly curated but not like it was owned by a corporation.” Growing up with shopkeepers as parents, Bailey’s aversion to homogeneous high streets – with the same rotation of chains, from sandwich shops to chemists – runs deep.

To achieve the overhaul of the area in a manner that was respectful of Deptford’s community, Bailey decided that anyone taking over an archway had to have some connection to the area. “Everything on the street is designed by someone from southeast London,” he says. “Even the flags down the road were drawn by local schoolchildren.” The restaurants that dot Deptford Market Yard, from Afro-Caribbean venue Jerk Yard to family-owned Japanese café Kekaki Izakaya, attest to the diversity of the neighbourhood. 

So far the reception has been positive. Appear Here is now looking to, well, appear, at a more extensive scale, in north and east London. “If you truly want to understand a city, the key is to pay attention to the shops and streets, not the public buildings or town halls,” says Bailey. “Museums and monuments tell outsiders what a city wants to be. But the streets and the shops tell people what a city really is and how it treats and serves those who actually live there.”

f&b ––– singapore
Bean and gone

In February, Singaporean start-up Prefer raised $2m (€1.8m) to scale up the manufacturing of its signature product: bean-free coffee. Its co-founders, Jake Berber and Tan Ding Jie, are betting that their substitute, a fermented mixture of soybean pulp, barley and bread, will satisfy the most ardent coffee aficionados.


“It looks and feels just like ground coffee,” says Tan. Prefer’s product is cheaper, quicker to make and more sustainable than the original. It brews in the same manner and even produces a layer of frothy crema. But a lack of coffee beans means no caffeine. Prefer’s grounds make a great decaf, while customers looking for a kick can opt for a sprinkle of caffeine powder that the company extracts from tea. “As with any novel product, there’s a healthy amount of curiosity, as well as scepticism,” says Tan. But Prefer has managed to win over an important demographic: baristas. The product is already available in 14 cafés in Singapore and there are plans to expand to the Philippines.

Share on:






Go back: Contents

Global views: Long reads


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Pacific Shift