Hemp-based future? Thai Union targets alternative protein and supplement opportunities
Thai Union recently invested some THB3bn (US$90.6mn) to acquire a 10% stake in Thai food ingredients company R&B Food Supply, which specialises in various ingredients including natural flavours, colours and hemp extracts, and has since revealed to FoodNavigator-Asia that one of its major interests via this investment is in the hemp products space.
“Hemp-based products certainly have potential in Thailand as well as other parts of the world. Being a strong OEM player and operating globally, Thai Union seeks to develop a broad portfolio of alternative protein propositions for our customers [and consumers] wherever they are, and hemp certainly fits in this portfolio,” Thai Union Group CFO Ludovic Garnier told us.
“With RBF, we are exploring several potential business opportunities to integrate hemp extracts, hemp proteins and CBD extract in several key consumer projects including alternative protein, supplements and other food applications.
“The key benefits [hemp and CBD can bring] include improving consumers’ quality of life, which aligns with our commitment to healthy living. Hemp extracts [in particular have been approved for use as food in various countries and are known to] deliver several key health benefits.”
Hemp seeds have been found to be rich in essential fatty acids, protein, vitamins, minerals and the amino acid arginine which is believed to reduce cardiovascular risk, whereas hemp oil is often linked with pain and inflammatory relief. The health benefits of both have been acknowledged under the traditional Indian healing system of Ayurveda.
When asked about any concerns over potential regulatory challenges, especially as many markets near to Thailand such as Singapore have not approved hemp or CBD products other than for occasional medical purposes, Garnier expressed optimism that regulations are continually evolving and progressing.
“Regulations are changing for hemp globally, but as with any other new ingredients, this is continuing to evolve,” he said.
“[What we are looking at is integrating] RBF’s innovative ingredients such as hemp extracts into both Thai Union’s core offerings and newer products [to] enhance these. RBF also has natural flavours and colours in its portfolio, which will benefit [our product development] as well.
“As for RBF, the partnership will enhance its ability to integrate vertically into Thai Union’s supply chain, and leverage Thai Union’s global footprint for its own international expansion.”
Thailand removed certain cannabis plant components along with products made from these from the national Category 5 narcotics list earlier this year. These include cannabis stems, stalks and roots, hemp, non-viable hemp seeds, hemp oil extract and other substances extracted from hemp.
That said, at present all firms that wish to import any hemp or cannabis seeds still need to seek permission from the local Agriculture Department, so Thai Union’s move to acquire a stake in a local business already familiar with hemp and CBD products will allow them to move ahead more quickly with any product innovation in this area.
Flexible packaging for sustainability
In addition to its RBF investment, Thai Union also recently entered a joint venture with packaging firm Starflex under its printing and packaging subsidiary Thai Union Graphic Co. A new company was registered as part of this venture, with capital of THB250mn, with 51% shares under Starflex and 49% shares under Thai Union Graphic.
“As part of our SeaChange global sustainability strategy, we have made the commitment that 100% of our branded packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 - this new joint venture will help us reach that goal,” Garnier told us.
“Mitigating the effects of our packaging on the environment and innovating in our design and production not only addresses key sustainability challenges, but also provides important business benefits – sustainability is a key pillar of Thai Union’s global business.”
According to Starflex President Printhorn Apithanasriwong, the new company will first aim to build a new factory dedicated to produce and supply flexible packaging to be used for food products, with a focus on supporting Thai Union’s sustainability and packaging goals as part of its commitment.