Motivated by a profound desire to add value to agricultural products, Kraitawat Seibenjaratana, chief executive of Mai Mee Od Co, a startup dedicated to processing Thai tropical fruit, has been delving into technologies and R&D on freezing fruit, which he believes offers expansive business potential.
Leveraging his background as a scientist, he identified challenges within the fruit export business.
Mr Kraitawat, 51, established Mai Mee Od Co ("no hunger" in English) three years ago as a spin-off from his business of importing chemicals for rubber tyres, haircare and rubber gloves under Alchemist Co.
Scientist to fruit sector
With a degree in chemical science from Chulalongkorn University and an MBA from the New York Institute of Technology, as well as a strong interest in the agricultural product market and processing industry, Mr Kraitawat set up a fruit processing factory in Tha Takiab district, Chachoengsao in 2018.
His intention was to expand the market for frozen fruit both domestically and internationally.
Mr Kraitawat recognised the significant size of the fruit export market and saw an opportunity, emphasising an export-oriented approach for 90% of products including durian, custard apple, mango and other frozen fruit.
However, once the factory was constructed, the pandemic disrupted marketing activities, limiting the company's business focus to the domestic market.
The company used the pandemic period to develop frozen fruit products such as coconut, pineapple and jackfruit, while expanding into the category of sticky rice with durian, coconut milk, mango and longan.
The frozen fruit products are designed similar to ice cream, featuring durian and longan.
Initially, the size of the products was 80 grammes, but customer feedback indicated a preference for smaller sizes to avoid feeling full after meals.
As a result, he designed a new capsule-sized product that is 40 g, making it easier to eat when full and suitable for serving at home or restaurants and coffee shops.
"We are inspired by the development of value-added agricultural products. This drives us to explore technologies and engage in research and development on the freezing process. As scientists in the industrial sector, we know the issues with trying to export Thai fruit," said Mr Kraitawat.
"As the fruit export market is large, we started seeking knowledge and technology. Eventually we found a knowledgeable partner and continued to build on our ideas."
GET A WHIFF OF THIS
He said the company's first product was frozen durian, which it processed to create a homogeneous texture by grinding the pulp and injecting it into moulds to resemble the natural shape of durian.
Then it applied technology Mai Mee Od developed, known as hyper-rapid freezing (Hrf).
This process rapidly lowers the temperature to below -190°C, ensuring the natural qualities of fruit are preserved almost completely, said Mr Kraitawat.
Hrf also reduces crystal icing formation, a significant obstacle for frozen goods because it reduces the retention of the product's taste and nutrition.
"With Hrf technology, we are confident our products will remain fresh, tasty and nutritious for consumers," he said.
"Products can be stored for up to two years. Our products are considered innovative, with a freshness level equivalent to 95% of fresh fruit. This enables exporting globally, and a notable advantage is customers can consume Thai tropical fruit anywhere, at any time."
Exports beefed up
According to Mr Kraitawat, the company became fully active in 2023 and commenced exports.
Products are exported to 15 countries comprising Malaysia, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Switzerland, China, Canada and the US.
Export revenue in 2023 was 50 million baht, with the company starting shipments in the latter half of the year following the factory's registration with the Food and Drug Administration.
Mai Mee Od wants to increase its export revenue to 200-300 million baht this year after securing exclusive agents in Germany and Dubai.
The company is in the process of appointing distributors in Australia and New Zealand, said Mr Kraitawat.
In the future, he said the company aims to position its processed fruit products in premium grocery stores such as Gourmet Market and popular malls including The Mall, EmQuartier and Emporium.
The product line includes more than 20 items, including frozen durian, mango, custard apple, aromatic coconut, pineapple, jackfruit and guava, with mangosteen introduced this year.
For the capsule segment, the company offers durian and plans to add lychee and longan. The focus is on developing globally recognised Thai fruit, giving consumers access worldwide, said Mr Kraitawat.
He said all raw materials are 100% Thai fruit sourced from quality-certified farms with Good Agricultural Practices, free from harmful chemicals.
The company collaborates with more than 20 partner farms and owns a smart farm spanning 103 rai in Wiang Chiang Rung, in Chiang Rai. The farm employs the company's expertise in organic and integrated farming, emphasising quality control in durian cultivation.
This year, Mr Kraitawat said the company plans to expand its cultivation area by 100 acres near the factory in Chachoengsao, copying the smart farm technology used in Chiang Rai.
"Thailand is the world's leading producer of tropical fruit, with an annual export value of more than 200 billion baht. The company would like to encourage Thai entrepreneurs to focus on developing processed fruit products that can accommodate the market surplus," he said.
"In doing so, they can add significant value and help farmers receive better prices for their products."