If you’ve always wanted to do your part in addressing the unethical methods used to harvest the food you eat, Singapore-headquartered technology startup Glife could be your solution.
Caleb Wu’s interest in food, animals and their relations to society was piqued during his university days when he visited a slaughterhouse with an animal welfare group he was volunteering with.
“For me, this led to a burgeoning interest in the food ecosystem and later the food supply chain. I eventually wanted to align my career aspirations with a cause I felt a strong connection to,” Caleb recalls, and he wasn’t the only one.
Caleb’s friend from junior college, Justin Chou, who co-founded Greendot and has extensive experience in the F&B industry, was also curious about the food supply chain and questioned where his produce came from.
Together, they held discussions about the food supply chain — how farmers are involved, and what the journey from harvesting to selling was like for each and every produce — and realised there were many gaps in the industry.
“We realised the entire ecosystem was not transparent and farmers may be at a disadvantage given the multiple middlemen involved,” Caleb shares, adding that this realisation contributed to their decision to work together to make a change.
Along with Wayne Goh, whom they met at one of Quest Venture’s networking sessions, the trio launched Glife Technologies in 2018 to connect stakeholders across the food value chain on a single platform to address the usually ambiguous seed-to-table supply chain distribution.
Tapping on prior expertise
Before founding Glife Technologies, Caleb, Justin and Wayne pursued different career pathways.
While Caleb took on finance and investment and co-founded MTC Consulting Group (which focuses on talent acquisition consultancy and recruitment services across Southeast Asia), Justin focused on his first business venture Greendot, a vegetarian restaurant chain.
Being a vegetarian since young, Justin helped Caleb gain more understanding about different diets and food choices people adopt, which proved useful in their idea generation on how they could bring change to the current food ecosystem.
But to realise their vision, they need a product first, which was why they reached out to Wayne. He has a deep expertise in tech and product, especially in the tech start-up ecosystem.
In fact, Wayne co-founded All Deals Asia, an aggregator for e-commerce companies and brick-and-mortars that helps reach potential consumers, which has since been acquired by Indonesia’s Lippo Group.
I’m grateful to be on this journey with Wayne and Justin. Each of us have our unique set of skills and have something different to bring to the table.
What we have in common is an entrepreneurial spirit, knowing we can make a difference [through] Glife. It was only together with them, and the Glife Technologies team at large, that we were able to grow our company.
– Caleb Wu, co-founder and deputy CEO of Glife Technologies
With a strong team at the core, Glife Technologies was created to ultimately feed SEA sustainably through the empowering and uplifting of farmers, suppliers, merchant and F&B businesses in the food and agriculture industry.
Feeding SEA sustainably with the use of technology
These goals set out by Glife to achieve aren’t easy to reach. The current SEA food supply chain has many inefficiencies that cause issues such as food wastage, volatile food prices, and unnecessary multiple middlemen.
Caleb believes these issues are present because of a mismatch in supply and demand, which is caused by the lack of transparency and inefficiency in the ecosystem’s information flow.
Glife seeks to address these problems by driving the adoption of digital solutions for restaurants. Using their tech-enabled farm-to-table network, Glife provides an end-to-end food and fresh produce logistics that distributes fresh fruits, vegetables and plant-based products to the hotel, restaurant, cafe (HORECA) industry.
Their digital business also provides software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to digitally transform smallholder farmers and F&B businesses throughout the food supply chain.
At the same time, Caleb understands that demand from F&B customers is also crucial, since it determines the right amount of produce to be supplied. To accomplish this, Glife strategically invested in and partnered with Novitee to digitise the flow of supplies from production to consumption and drive technology adoption among restaurants and merchants.
With more than S$1 billion in transacted value, Glife’s leverage on Novitee’s big data output enables the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analysis to determine the supply and demand of ingredients a restaurant would need with every order made from a diner.
This potentially increases the supply chain efficiency by aggregating purchase demands from F&B businesses and connecting them directly to farmers and suppliers.
Caleb shares that the joining of forces between its proprietary B2B Food Supply Chain OS GlifeWare and Novitee through data-sharing have led to the upcoming launch of NoviMarketplace later this year, which encapsulates Glife’s vision of a better B2B food future.
It not only benefits farmers and restaurants, but also suppliers in other categories, as they can also digitally connect with F&B merchants on a single platform to grow their businesses within the ecosystem.
“Ultimately, we aim to grow and nurture a better food future at Glife. We envision the future of [the] food ecosystem in SEA to be fair, secure, more efficient and sustainable,” emphasises Caleb.
Transforming the food supply chain from end-to-end
Regarding agritech startups and companies, the first thing that probably pops into one’s mind would be precision farming and vertical farming, when in actual fact, the entire agritech ecosystem is much wider.
Glife Technologies cements itself as a business-to-business (B2B) food technology company with a focus on digitally transforming the food supply chain of the industry that provides vertically integrated food solutions provider using technology and digital solutions.
Since their business model is backed entirely by technology, Glife can operate an efficient farm-to-table model by eliminating middlemen costs as well as running a tech-enabled operation.
From managing the sourcing, packing, distribution within the value chain to working with farmers in the application of unique technologies to help with their farming techniques, Glife oversees it all.
This means instead of purchasing fresh produce from wholesalers or importers like what most traditional distributors do, Glife engages directly with farmers to secure contract farming, giving farmers a stable demand and pricing.
At the same time, F&B businesses stand to benefit with better quality produce at a more competitive pricing.
Glife’s work does not just end once the produce has been delivered to the restaurants. They also make the effort to extend their solutions within the food value chain with diners and customers in mind, resulting in a closely knit community of F&B businesses, hotels and restaurants.
“Ultimately, we are all about creating solutions within the entire food value chain, connecting great ingredients to great food with restaurants and the diners in mind,” Caleb summarises.
Grasping opportunities amidst problems
Getting to this stage was no walk in the park for Glife.
Caleb shares that the industry is pioneered by the older generation that largely depends on the traditional paper-and-pen model.
Getting them to adopt Glife’s services was challenging as the veterans in the industry merely saw them as a group of young entrepreneurs at the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre who were merely trying to navigate through their own solutions and offerings.
But as we stuck through our beliefs and shared information and benefits of our technology, the veterans became more open to us.
We recognised the benefits of technology and how it can transform the industry, but it was crucial for us to share this with them, our partners and clients as well to understand the value we bring to the table.
– Caleb Wu, co-founder and deputy CEO of Glife Technologies
Gradually, the veterans gained confidence in their initiative and believed in the difference the trio sought to make within the industry. They eventually became interested in learning more on how Glife could support their businesses.
However, the team faced yet another roadblock to clear: the effects from the COVID-19 pandemic. Disrupted logistics in food value chains adversely impacted the quantity, quality, freshness, affordability and other key criteria of food available.
Coupled with many restaurants shutting down during the lockdown phases in Singapore, the demand and supply of produce and food items underwent drastic and sporadic changes, which gravely affected Glife’s operations as a B2B business.
“Overnight, we saw a 90 [per cent] drop in orders”, Caleb recalled. He adds that a drop in revenue would quickly drain up their cash flow and reduce their operational runway. Moreover, capital providers were also adopting a more cautious approach given the sudden turn of events to the industry.
In the midst of chaos, the Glife team realised there was a surge in consumer demand faced by supermarkets, neighbourhood grocers and grocery-related e-commerce channels.
“We knew that we had to react quick[ly] to turn it around [and] we saw the crisis as an opportunity”, Caleb says.
They observed that the food consumption level during COVID-19 will remain the same, just that people are opting more for home dining. At the same time, they were also aware that the industry previously did not have the capacity to fulfil home deliveries within an immediate notice as most of the last-mile logistics were not catered for food or fresh produce delivery.
Having pinpointed a problem to solve in the industry, Glife decided to provide more than just a range of products to rival that of a supermarket. In addition, it created a full cold chain logistics capability to ensure freshness and the relationship with farmers to ensure minimal disruption to supply shortages.
Within a short span of time, Glife managed to pivot and turn their B2B e-commerce model into a B2C direct to home delivery of fresh produce, staples and condiments, leading to the launch of their B2C e-commerce platform Greenies.sg, three days after the first circuit breaker lockdown in April 2020.
Within two weeks, Greenies.sg was supplying 300 to 400 orders a day, bringing S$300,000 to S$400,000 in cash sales, helping to offset the drop in their B2B sales. This was all done without implementing a pay cut of their staff.
“While we manage[d] to tide through this challenging time, the pandemic also amplified the opportunities for Glife to accelerate its growth within the B2B space,” Caleb says, adding that 2020 ended up becoming Glife’s best-performing year since its inception.
Reflecting on those times, Caleb feels that the COVID-19 situation shed light on the unavailability of digital solutions for food suppliers for their operations and manual labour.
Our ability to switch from a B2B into B2C business model also highlighted the importance of continual investment in technology. Without technology, it would not have been possible for Glife to pivot successfully.
– Caleb Wu, co-founder and deputy CEO of Glife Technologies
Expanding across SEA
Today, Glife currently serves more than 2,500 F&B businesses and HORECA chains, and over 1,000 farmers in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, with GlifeWare powering Glife’s regional operations, managing an annual flow of more than 3,000 tonnes of produce.
As a vertically integrated food service solution provider, Glife expanded its services in 2021 by providing the full stack of restaurant digital technologies for merchants in the HORECA industry. Some clients they’ve worked with include Changi Airport Group, Crystal Jade, Don Don Donki, Four Seasons Resorts, Coca Cola and more.
Earlier this year, they also strategically acquired Malaysia-based Yolek and Bali-based PanenID as a point of entrance into new SEA markets.
With Yolek and PanenID’s strong knowledge of their respective markets and the strong connections they have with local farmers, suppliers and restaurants, Caleb believes the acquisition would allow Glife to gain a better understanding of these markets and gain a foothold within.
Glife has also made a strategic investment earlier this year with Koina, an agritech startup based in Ho Chi Minh, and are working closely with them to enter Vietnam as their next key market.
In terms of digital solutions, Caleb shares that they plan to enable the transition of Glife into a marketplace that enables Glife to become a central orchestrator of the B2B HORECA market. This aggregates the demand that will benefit both Glife’s supply chain and other food suppliers in the different verticals.
Featured image credit: Glife Technologies