Regional connectivity: Thai Union highlights food tech collaboration opportunities as reason for basing new ASEAN arm in Singapore
The firm’s new Singapore operation has been registered as Thai Union South East Asia Pte., which will be staffed with personnel entrusted with the responsibility to ‘peruse new opportunities for Thai Union Group’.
“[As] Singapore is emerging as one of the key food-tech hubs in Asia, [having] a presence here will help Thai Union facilitate the building of relationships and collaborations with locally based ventures as well as in the food tech ecosystem more broadly,” Thai Union Group Director, Strategy Patrick Bertalanffy told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We have made a commitment to Open Innovation, and our collaborations with - and investments in - food tech start-ups are an important part of this, [so] we have already made investments in Singaporean entities and have close relationships with other local start-ups and investors.”
The hope is also that working more with regional and international food tech firms will yield ‘positive effects’ for the firm’s home base Thailand, particularly the local food tech ecosystem and firms that Thai Union is working with – the firm runs a food tech accelerator programme for start-ups together with the Thailand National Innovation Agency (NIA) and Mahidol University.
“From the start, our Open Innovation efforts have always been global,” he said
“We see the need for Thai start-ups to look outward to grow regionally and globally, and we see start-ups abroad have strong interest in Thailand, either as a potential market or as a base for their operations.
“So, the more connected Thai Union is, the better we can support the ecosystem.”
Not just seafood
The new Singapore operation will look closely into food tech collaborations in the region, and Bertalanffy stressed that although Thai Union is best known for its seafood products, the firm is interested in food technology far beyond just this spectrum.
“Our interest in the food tech space is not limited to the seafood business, as evidenced by our recent venture investments - the Corporate Venture fund [we set up in 2019] invests in Alternative Protein, Functional Nutrition and (Food) Value-Chain Technology,” he said.
Thai Union recently invested into four firms from a range of disciplines across the food industry – these were shrimp and aquaculture technology firm HydroNeo from Thailand and Germany, US-based insect tech and e-commerce firm Manna Foods, Singapore-based GI-lowering food technology firm Alchemy Foodtech and Singapore-based food tech investment fund VisVires New Protein.
HydroNeo, Manna Foods and Alchemy Foodtech were all part of the first batch of SPACE-F. The programme has also assisted several well-known firms in the food tech and alternative protein space such as Thailand’s Let’s Plant Meat, Avant Meats, Sophie’s Bionutrients and Karana.
The HydroNeo investment would be considered a no-brainer, as the firm specialises in a ‘Smart Shrimp Farming Management System’ to maximise productivity and minimise risk in a sector that has clear links to seafood, but Alchemy’s technology is clearly not directly connected to the products Thai Union is best known for (i.e. canned seafood under brands like John West, Chicken of the Sea or King Oscar).
Responding to queries on this decision, Bertalanffy said this was because the firm had determined that Alchemy is addressing an ‘important problem’.
“Our Corporate Venture Capital team has been in close contact with Alchemy Foodtech since they joined [our] SPACE-F accelerator programme in October 2019,” he told us.
“In our assessment, Alchemy Foodtech are addressing an important problem and have interesting technology and a strong team to do so. We believe they have a promising future ahead and we are looking forward to supporting them in their journey.
“[All in all], we believe that our increased engagement outside Thailand (in Singapore and elsewhere) will likely have positive effects for our work with Thai food tech start-ups as the food tech ecosystem isn’t limited to a single country.”