Thanks to a growing urban population which is equipped with more disposable income than ever, the F&B industry in Vietnam’s major cities has grown spectacularly over the last number of years. Up until the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry was returning a compound annual growth rate of over 10% year on year.
While intermittent lockdowns and the halting of inbound international tourism have caused plenty of upheaval, F&B tech startup KAMEREO overcame a rocky start to 2020 by growing 15% every month over the last year. To cap off a stellar 12 month period, the company has recently announced a $4.6 million injection in Series A funding. The round was co-led by original 2019 seed investors Genesia Ventures, along with Quest Ventures and CPF Group, whose Vietnamese entity C.P. Vietnam Corp is a leading agro-industrial and food conglomerate which helps businesses comply with hygiene and food safety regulations.
Redefining The Food Business In Vietnam
By KAMEREO’s own admission, the startup is ambitiously aiming to, “Redefine the food business in Vietnam,” through its food supply procurement platform. It’s the first tech powered B2B food sourcing platform in Vietnam, instantly connecting buyers with fresh produce farmers on their website or mobile app, and taking care of negotiations to speed up the entire purchasing process. After this, the KAMEREO team handles all logistics including order processing, product tracking, supply chain management and delivery.
Though consumers in major Vietnamese cities are well used to restaurant delivery apps, the process of procurement for F&B business is still a heavily manual one fraught with supply chain and logistical drawbacks. KAMEREO is aiming to change that. In a conversation with Vietcetera in November 2020, founder and CEO Taku Tanaka spoke of both the obstacles of taking food supply procurement digital, but also of its inevitability, “Considering that the industry is still dependent on manual processes, the road towards automation is still rocky and will take time. People aren’t willing to change their habits. But once they start implementing technology into their operations, I believe it will change their lives. They won't want to go back to manual processes.”
This has indeed proven to be the case for a coterie of high profile F&B players in Ho Chi Minh City, with El Gaucho, Layla Eatery & Bar, Maison Marou, L’Usine, The Vintage Emporium and Pizza 4Ps among KAMEREO’s clientele.
The Origins of Kamereo
In fact, it was through Pizza 4Ps that Taku first noted the vast potential in Vietnam’s restaurant scene and subsequently conceived the idea for KAMEREO. The Japanese walked away from a career in investment banking and moved to Vietnam in 2015, where he soon took up the role of COO at 4Ps. Back then, the now chain restaurant was in its infancy, with only one location tucked away in a backstreet off District One’s Japantown.
Over the next three years, Taku would oversee an impressive expansion to ten stores nationwide, but it was during this time that he constantly came up against the same hurdles in food supply chain efficiency, so he started KAMEREO in 2018 in a bid to solve the problem himself.
With the help of current KAMEREO CTO Hiroshi Tokaku, who at the time was working for Indeed.com in Tokyo, and a team of engineers in Ho Chi Minh City, they built and launched the platform.
The lockdowns of 2020 threatened to undo all their early efforts when their business dropped by 70%, but once the restaurant scene bounced back, KAMEREO’s stock began to surge.
The Future of F&B Sourcing and Procurement
It’s this compelling performance level amidst a pandemic, as well as Taku’s previous industry experience which led to the recent round of funding. Quest Ventures partner Goh Yiping commented after the round’s conclusion that the group was, “Very impressed by KAMEREO's execution, in-depth supply chain, and market knowledge in the farm to fork space in Vietnam. KAMEREO sits in one of the largest food production hubs of Southeast Asia, and there is much room to grow in solving many of the inefficiencies of the supply chain today, improving farmers' livelihood outcomes and procuring the best products for businesses and homes."
That the funding was also co-led by CPF group is an intriguing prospect for the company’s future growth and scalability while keeping standards high. “We are pleased to join forces with Kamereo – combining our state of the art production and highest food standards with their unparalleled B2B F&B expertise,” Said Montri Suwanposri, CEO of CPF Vietnamese entity C.P. Vietnam Corp.
Now the big question surrounds how far KAMEREO can go. Though even with some of Ho Chi Minh City’s most loved restaurants and cafes on board, they’re in no mood to rest on their laurels.
In the short term the plan is a perfectly pragmatic one — to add to their staff ranks to deal with a growing number of clients, and to redevelop their warehouse management system to streamline daily in-house operations. When Vietcetera spoke to Taku Tanaka after the Series A was announced, he talked about the kind of talent the company is looking to hire, saying, “I’m not just looking for experience. I’m more into the mindset of the people we hire—people who have a clear understanding of the problems and are willing to solve them, people who think outside the box and are not afraid to make mistakes, people who are honest and transparent, people who see change as an opportunity.”
As the company is actively apportioning part of its new funding towards hiring new team members, they’ve released an introductory deck to help people learn more should they wish to join the startup’s journey.
The medium - long term plan for KAMEREO is an aspiring one, with Tanaka saying that he intends to bring KAMEREO to Hanoi next year, with a long term goal of becoming an end to end, one stop F&B procurement API.