CP Foods chairman exclusive: Seafood and tech tops plans for North American partnerships
CP Group’s US chairman Boonchai Opas-Iam-Likit (Boonchai) told us in an exclusive interview that investment in the US would be an ongoing priority.
“Since 2016, CP Foods has focused a lot on expansion into North America, starting with an investment of somewhere around US$1.1bn to purchase the Bellisio brand. The idea was to bring American food over to Asian markets, where more and more Western food is being consumed.
“One of the key areas we are looking at here is in seafood – Over 90% of the shrimp in the United States is imported and it is a major market at 4.4 pounds consumed per capita for some 325 million people.
“The end-game for us here is to develop a homegrown shrimp culture project in the United States in the future which would also support the local production of processed products which are popular locally, such as dumplings, which are currently imported over from Thailand to the US.”
Boonchai added that there were many additional benefits that such a project could bring, including more control over the traceablity, sustainability and ability to guarantee food safety throughout its supply chain.
Additionally, the company is also looking at working with US companies that deal with advanced and innovative technologies so as to up its game in the market.
“We have worked with several top players in terms of advanced technology, for example partnered with top universities such as Harvard and MIT, but still want to scout further for more advanced technology e.g. from places such as Silicon Valley, so as to complement what we are doing and increase our efficiency and effectiveness,” said Boonchai.
An example of CP Foods’ incorporation of technology into its food production is in Belgium, through its acquired brand Tops Foods, where an advanced microwave technology system is used to kill microorganisms and cook ready-to-eat (RTE) meals but maintain colour and taste.
There are two major products that result from this tech: Pasteurised foods, which are microwaved for seven minutes at 100°C and can then be chilled and kept for 21 days, and sterilised foods, which are microwaved for 12 minutes at 120°C and can remain shelf-stable for a year.
“This is not like normal retort technology which tends to destroy taste, colour, flavour and even aroma,” Boonchai added.
“This is a very sustainable process, especially for the shelf-stable products, as these will cut out a lot of cold chain requirements through the food chain even at the retailer stage.”
What’s different in the States?
“In the US, there are always aisles and aisles of frozen foods but very little products at ambient temperature,” Boonchai told us.
“This is due to consumer perception of such products, and increasing ambient product acceptance will require much more advocacy. The learning curve is steep, but I believe that that the trend is on the way.”
Under the company’s Authentic Asia branding, CP Foods also exports wanton soup and noodles into the country, where it is leveraging on the existing Bellissio platform to serve markets all across the country.
“The platform is already available, and all we need to do is increase the speed, scale and scope of business accordingly, based on the economy of scales,” said Boonchai.
New product development
When it comes to innovating and developing new products, CP Foods has a rough set of guiding principles to adhere to.
“It is always important to reflect consumerism when it comes to new product development, so we follow the trends. Nowadays, it is about being clean, healthy and adherent to consumer lifestyles, so we take these and develop product dimensions around taste, quality and consumer perception accordingly,” said Boonchai.
In terms of lifestyle, both customisation and the environment need to be considered in order to appeal to consumers.
“For example, in the US we have used mainly EOB (Eat Out of Box) packaging in our core brands. This is quite environmental-friendly laminated paper packaging for our main products under the Bellissio arm to reflect sustainability concerns. We’re trying to do this in Asia too, but it will take some time,” he added.
“For customisation, the key is to be innovative in approaching product development and not just mass produce a certain item.
“There must also be research undertaken to look at the consumer of the future – for example, though we are primarily dealing with meats, we make sure not to forget to also serve our vegan and vegetarian consumers and make products accordingly.”