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Zeemart whips up link for food suppliers and buyers

Q What does Zeemart do?

Mr Sundarajoo We are a business-to-business platform built for the hotel, restaurant and catering industry, connecting buyers and suppliers.

Mr Tan Nobody starts a food and beverage (F&B) business because they love administrative work. They love the creation of food, interacting with guests, creating a nice ambience. They don't love the paperwork and that's what Zeemart is trying to help with.

Mr Sundarajoo A lot of F&B busi- ness owners spend a lot of effort in the front of the house, which is sales - getting more customers, driving promotions, working on table turnarounds.

If you take a step into the back of the house, where they make ordering decisions on a daily basis and do all the administrative work, you soon realise that a lot of restaurants are disorganised there.

Quite often, they don't have time to really check sales and inventory and then make orders based on data-driven information.

They also have to make their orders through various channels. Depending on the supplier, they could be ordering through WhatsApp, fax, e-mail, phone calls or WeChat. So we try to help them, first of all, by letting them make their orders all on one platform.

Restaurants also tend to track expenses only after the fact, when the accountant comes in and looks at all the bills from the past month, and then they discover they'd over- or under-ordered. This is a very common problem.

If you look at any restaurant, about 30 to 35 per cent of their revenue is spent on buying raw ingredients and they're not even carefully tracking these expenses.

So Zeemart helps them be a lot more efficient. Instead of ordering via multiple platforms and figuring out how much the restaurant has spent at the end of the month, they can track it all on Zeemart. They can even repeat the orders.

Zeemart also helps them source for new suppliers. Quite often, chefs would want to introduce new dishes to their menus, but finding suppliers and figuring out how much ingredients cost, and how much to order to be able to produce a certain amount of plates can be so difficult that they don't even bother eventually.

So Zeemart helps with this. They can source for suppliers of the new ingredients they need and immediately find the prices, all through using their mobile phone - no need to make calls or Google. Zeemart also rates suppliers.

We have partnered with the Restaurant Association of Singapore and they have told us Zeemart really solves a problem in the industry - many buyers have previously asked them if there is a procurement and sourcing platform for the industry.

Q How does Zeemart help suppliers?

Mr Sundarajoo A lot of suppliers are long-established family businesses. The second and third generations are taking over at these businesses and they want to use technology to become more efficient.

They say Zeemart sounds like music to their ears. They want to use it immediately.

One supplier we spoke to said there are six channels through which it receives orders, from fax to WhatsApp. Every time it takes on 10 new restaurants as buyers, it has to add to its headcount just to process the new orders, because the orders have to be taken down and put into its inventory system.

Then someone has to check whether the item is available and get back to the customer to say if it's available or not, or "You asked for 20kg but I only have 10kg."

This back and forth can be replaced by technology. Zeemart is where they can manage their inventory and it's transparent to the buyer - you don't have to tell the buyer if the item is available because the buyer will know.

And even if you get an order through another channel, say a phone call, you can then update your inventory on Zeemart immediately.

Q How will IP play a role in your growth plans?

Mr Somosundram Data will become the biggest asset that we own - all the transactional data between our buyers and suppliers. That's data that nobody is tracking yet.

Traditionally, most start-ups value their business based on the revenue they're generating or gross merchandise volume.

We are working with IP ValueLab to recognise the value of our intangible assets - our data - on our books to help with the valuation of our business.

And this is also the strategy we are taking for our regionalisation plans. Because if we can show that we are able to create, own and protect these assets, we would be able to secure more joint ventures, partnerships when we expand.

Q What's next for Zeemart?

Mr Sundarajoo We are looking at including payment services on Zeemart, such that restaurants can pay all their suppliers at one go with a click of a button. We are talking to a bank to make this happen.

Even a hole-in-the-wall cafe has at least 30 suppliers. Imagine having to pay 30 different suppliers every month.

We are also looking at logistics. If you look at items that the F&B industry deals with, they are mostly perishable or highly perishable. A lot of suppliers struggle to do deliveries of such items.

If you think about it, you could have 10 suppliers all going to the same restaurant - one delivering meat, another vegetables, another seafood, and so on.

What if we had a hub-and-spoke model that all these suppliers can join? They could give their deliveries to Zeemart, Zeemart consolidates them and distributes them to the various restaurants, so that each time a restaurant gets a delivery, it includes items from 10 suppliers at one shot.

Mr Somosundram Using transactional data, we'd also be able to identify companies on our platform that are growing very quickly and we could explore offering them funding options, but that's something we're planning to do further down the road.

Q What are your growth targets?

Mr Sundarajoo We just started about four months ago and we have only Singapore-based clients so far - about 100-plus buyers and suppliers. Some notable businesses that are using Zeemart include The Daily Cut and Chef Justin Quek's restaurant Grignoter.

We are hoping most restaurants in Singapore will come on board, and we are targeting to have 1,000 restaurants on our platform in the next 12 months.

We are also looking at entering Malaysia and Indonesia, hopefully within the next six months or so. We have to be in these markets because Singapore suppliers are doing business there.