Innovation splurge: Thailand’s Sesamilk on dairy alternative expansion and calls for government SME support
When we last spoke to Sesamilk last year, the Thai firm had just started with its exports to markets such as China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau and Vietnam based on just two products – white and black sesame milk.
Less than two years on, it has expanded its reach into several more markets such as Singapore, Malaysia and the United States, and is now working on significantly expanding its product portfolio in order to cater to even more consumers and markets.
“We are a specialist in sesame and do not intend to change this, so our new product development will be focused on a more vertical path,” Sesamilk CEO Siripen Suntornmonkongsri told FoodNavigator-Asia at the recent Thaifex-Anuga Asia 2022 trade show.
“Apart from having launched in different sizes, we do know that our sesame milk can really be used as a dairy replacement in many ways, so we are looking at innovating in this way – right now we have items such as sesame milk powder, sesame milk powder enriched with supplements, sesame creamer, sesame ice cream, sesame spreads, sesame tofu, and sesame bakery items in development and on the way.
“One thing we are unlikely to develop is yoghurt though – we did think about this but quickly realised that the bacteria would not be able to do fermentation as there is no sugar in our products, and there is also a high concentration of sesame oil which bacteria do not like. But that’s okay as we do have sesame ice cream to cater to consumers looking for an indulgent item.”
Suntornmonkongsri attributes much of Sesamilk’s rapid growth to the fact that sesame is already a very common ingredient in Asia and Asian cuisine, just presented in a different form via their products.
“Sesame paste (zhi ma hu) is a very popular dessert across many Asian markets, and many consumers here are aware of the benefits of sesame, but the thing about the traditional paste is that it both tends to have more sugar and is also made with the sesame husks attached,” she said.
“The husks are high in calcium which is good, but this also makes the paste less digestible, particularly for elderly consumers – our innovation technology has been developed to extract the liquid out of the sesame husks to maintain the nutritional value, yet only leave very fine traces of the husks, so the digestibility is much improved.
“It’s really a new way of consuming sesame for its benefits such as calcium (high in black sesame) and protein (high in white sesame), as well as the sesamin compounds unique to sesame seeds that can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar to improve diabetes, heart health and skin health.”
More support needed
That said, Suntornmonkongsri also highlighted that many SMEs creating new, innovative, healthier products such as Sesamilk are currently facing a great deal of limitations to growth even amidst a rapidly-growing market such as meat and dairy alternatives, and has called for the government to provide more assistance to the sector.
“Three major areas we are really requiring more support in are budget, events and promotions, across the board,” she said.
“The sector is currently doing a lot of work that by right the government should be doing such as trying to help the farmers who supply their raw ingredients and lifting up Thailand’s agrifood sector to promote it, but we ourselves need more support to grow too.
“One particular area that stands out here is taxation – I believe based on the work we are all doing, it would not be too much to ask that export/import taxes be reduced, or special rates offered for the sector, particularly given the state of the global economy currently.
“The market is growing very quickly, and Thailand does want to keep up with the pace of global development – but we, the actual players in the industry, need support such as this in order to spend our time and effort on research and innovation, as we all know that innovation takes time.”