As technology’s role in modern life becomes increasingly dominant, it is unsurprising that food technology (Foodtech) has become one of the most dynamic sectors globally, attracting the attention of large-scale investors and tech giants alike. However, the Foodtech industry runs much deeper than mere mobile apps delivering hot meals to our doorsteps, with major startups now tackling the methods of food farming and production, right through to distribution globally.
Although there is currently no concrete definition of Foodtech, it is generally accepted that the term encompasses activity involving the use of modern technology to positively impact agricultural processes (Agritech) as well as the production, supply chain, and distribution of food.
Over the last decade, Southeast Asia’s lucrative food market has garnered the attention of international investors and Foodtech initiatives. Although the region’s market is still in its early stages, many of these startups are already making waves and shaping how the region’s food industry will look going forward.
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Let’s take a look at four of the major innovations in Foodtech and Agritech in Southeast Asia and the role these startups are playing in shaping the future of food supply and production globally.
Venturing away from the traditional notion of farming, CityFarm is a Malaysian-based Agritech startup focused on, quite literally, bringing the farm to the city. Launched in 2016, this company promotes the establishment of ‘plant factories’, where fresh produce can be grown in controlled, indoor environments using hydroponic technology.
In order to demonstrate the potential of their indoor-farming practices, CityFarm launched a 450-square-foot vertical farm in a first-floor shop in Selangor, Malaysia. The company grew a variety of leafy vegetables, chili plants, and fruit. It is estimated that, at full capacity, the farm can house over 1,400 plants.
CityFarm aims to optimise farming practices and productivity without the traditional limitations that weather conditions and pests pose. Facilitating the adoption of these new, innovative practices, CityFarm distributes supplies, starter kits, and provides courses as key components of their business.
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With four successful farming operations running in key regions in Pakistan, the mobile digital-solutions platform by Ricult has successfully expanded into Saraburi, Thailand. Designed for use in the agricultural sector, this startup has already seen more than a 30 percent improvement in crop production by smallholder farmers using the platform.
Ricult believes that the key to solving major global issues, such as food shortage, poverty, and malnourishment, is to empower and invest in small farmers—the backbone of the food industry. After identifying the key problems that these farmers face, Ricult designed the platform to offer farmers direct digital solutions by leveraging agricultural data insights and analytics, allowing access to credit, and improving the efficiency of crop selling and other proactive solutions.
Currently, Ricult is working solely with farmers who grow corn in Thailand, but the company is looking to expand and encompass multiple crops, including rice and sugar, in the near future.
Manila-based Foodtech company BigDish acts as a platform for restaurant yield management, or making the most of limited resources, such as available seating. Founded in April 2013 the reservation platform offers restaurant deals and discounts between 10 to 50 percent, depending on the restaurant and its off-peak hours.
The platform provides each restaurant with customisable options for setting their discount levels and a maximum number of discount diners within a given timeframe; thereby allowing them to encourage and incentivise diners to book at off-peak hours. BigDish experienced success following their Main Market listing on the London Stock Exchange in August this year, ahead of the company’s proposed expansion into the United Kingdom.
With a PhD in political economy, 62-year-old entrepreneur, Nguyen Thi Hong Minh brings a wealth of experience to the Foodtech sphere with the establishment of her 2016 startup TraceVerified.
TraceVerified provides electronic traceability for food products in Vietnam. Currently, the majority of the nation’s food traceability processes are run by the food producers themselves, on paper. The electronic system allows farmers and processors to log information regarding the origins of products and how the product was processed.
The data is then compiled into a “TraceReport” that is accessible to quality managers, warehouse workers, and consumers via product packaging, ensuring the quality of their food sources.
Ultimately, TraceReport is a mechanism for farmers and food producers in Vietnam to build global credibility by allowing more transparency in product marketing and food safety processes, which is critical for growth and confidence in the nation’s food products.