Thailand’s robust innovation ecosystem is raising the food-tech leaders of tomorrow
published : 22 May 2020 at 08:00
As students at Bangkok’s prestigious Sasin School of Management, the co-founders of award-winning food-tech start-up Eden Agritech scoured Thailand together for science-based ideas for a business plan competition.
As often happens, they found what they were looking for in their own backyard. “The last one we met, by chance, was in the same university,” says Norapat Phaonimmongkol, now Eden Agritech’s chief executive. The plan, which became a reality, “was kind of a collaboration between the business school and engineering school”, he says.
The company’s core product is Eden Solution, also known as Naturen. Made of naturally occurring compounds, it can double or even triple the shelf life of cut fruits and vegetables. But more than that, “it’s about the quality”, says Mr Phaonimmongkol. An Asian exporter of fresh cut vegetables to the European market, for example, could use Naturen to keep the vegetables looking as new and vibrant as they did on the first day, even by the time they hit store shelves. “That means they can export to anywhere in the world,” he explains. Naturen can also improve the appeal and benefit of a wide range of other products, including lemongrass, dried fruit and cassava flour.
Eden Agritech’s potential has been recognised with a string of start-up and business awards. This includes a win at the Taste Innovation Show 2019 of Thaifex, a major regional trade fair that is a guide to emerging trends in the food and beverage industry. On its journey to success, the start-up has drawn on a robust food-innovation ecosystem that is springing up around Thailand.
“It’s about the quality. That means they can export to anywhere in the world”
CEO, Eden Agritech
One part of this is the Space F programme run by Thai Union, the world’s third-largest seafood business and a major provider of canned fish in many countries. “Space F is the first global foodtech incubator and accelerator which is located in Thailand,” says Tunyawat Kasemsuwan, Thai Union’s group director of global innovation. Established in co-operation with the National Innovation Agency and Mahidol University, it “provides a mentoring program to ensure that … currently 21 start-ups have access to the most relevant business tools, operational know-how and scientific capabilities within Thai Union for maximising their commercial success.”
These facilities were indispensable for Eden Agritech in the chemical engineering aspects of product development. “They have a lot of great, fancy tools … starting from a million baht ($30,000) at least,” says Mr Phaonimmongkol. “They let us use them for free.” Space F also provides abundant advice and connections, teaching start-ups and opening business opportunities. With Space F, Thai Union is sharing the benefits of its own commitment to innovation. “Thai Union strongly believes that innovation is fundamental for responding to the changing market landscape and consumer trends both now and in the future,” says Mr Kasemsuwan.
This approach resonates with the Thai government’s vision of Thailand 4.0—a country driven by innovative, high-tech industry that adds value to local products and boosts incomes. In line with its contribution to this agenda, the company’s Global Innovation Center in Bangkok “has gained the privilege to receive Board of Investment (BOI) tax incentives for fundamental research for better understanding the sensory characteristics and nutritional properties of tuna,” says Mr Kasemsuwan. Other businesses involved with innovative food and R&D can also take advantage of Board of Investment incentives including renewable smart visas of up to four years for international talent, investors and their families, along with tax breaks.
“Foundational findings from fundamental research are… accessible by the greater industry,”
Group Director of Global Innovation, Thai Union
The results of Thai Union’s innovation work will have wider benefits. “Foundational findings from fundamental research are… accessible by the greater industry,” says Mr Kasemsuwan. The example of Eden Agritech shows how big players like Thai Union can give new entrants a leg up, contributing to a robust food innovation ecosystem. With such a collaborative approach and government support in place, a range of Thai firms will continue to transform the way food is traded and consumed around the world.
The Thailand Board of Investment supports the development of industry in Thailand through a range of programmes and incentives open to local businesses and foreign investors. To learn more and make contact, visit www.boi.go.th.