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26 Sep 2018
by 99SME Admin

Zeemart, making Food and Beverage supply more black and white

An interesting statistic that founders of Zeemart, Keith Tan and Neeraj Sundarajoo, will share with you is 50% of Food and Beverage (F&B) start-ups do not survive beyond 3 years in Singapore.

Couple that with a staggering 90% do not survive beyond 5 years, and suddenly reasoning why the turnover of quaint cafes and eateries around the Boat Quay area makes perfect sense.

Both Keith and Raj agree that the key factor to understanding Zeemart’s niche is how the F&B industry works in Singapore. “It’s an extremely competitive environment, and also the goods are time sensitive,” Raj says. Everything is finite, from expiration dates on ingredients to the number of seats in a restaurant. “Some of the restaurants we see that have lasted, have also changed many hands,” Raj adds.

Keith and Raj attribute this turnover mainly to one specific issue – that those in the F&B industry take the food and services, the hospitality aspect, extra seriously. They are not, however, as good with the administrative work.

“Generally, people in all F&Bs are very passionate about the food-service and the hospitality part, but aren’t as good with the administrative work,” Keith says. The distinction between the front of house, were the food and services occur, and back of house, where the supply-side is, is a distinctly different process with also different landscapes. Keith says, “there is no one-stop solution like a supermarket for F&B, it’s all unique suppliers; like one meat, one fish, etcetera.”

This sort of compartmentalization of ingredient sourcing results, unfortunately, in a high frequency of ordering that is, according to the duo, extremely inefficient. Keith adds, “the business owners don’t get quotes, and many need the goods delivered within hours.”

That’s where Zeemart comes in. What Keith and Raj do is understand their customers costs and needs. Then, they select dates and fix minimum orders and quantities to aid in streamlining the supplies for their F&B clients. Zeemart’s tagline is “Greater Savings with Smarter Purchasing,” aiming to remove the tedium of ordering processes and maximizing convenience and control for both restaurateurs as well as suppliers.

Raj says, “the suppliers themselves go through similar issues, they have multiple platforms of orders, many channels to cater to, then they need admin staff to process, do the logistics and do warehousing.” All this sourcing of products, and storage requirements for each, coupled with investment in delivery vehicles, means their capital is stuck. “They are limited by the number of trucks and their warehouse space,” Raj says. Zeemart helps on this side as well, in getting suppliers to fold into a consolidated model, to help mediating bad debt with clients – simply more efficiencies for everyone involved.

The beginnings of Zeemart come from a collected 18 years of advertising and client-facing experience. Keith says, “we are good friends, but we never planned to start a business when we were younger - things just fell into place.” In Zeemart’s infancy, the duo had been running an advertising and marketing agency, focused on interactive media. There were no names too big on their roster, like Microsoft and Proctor & Gamble.

The duo did, however, have questions. Questions like “what is the next Grab and Redmart?” and “how can we go beyond Singapore?” Feeling jaded with the services industry and hearing buzz on the grapevine, Keith and Raj set out to build a platform for themselves, the next online thing they could task themselves with.

“We are digital natives, so it was the obvious choice,” Keith says. When they looked at how restaurant bookings are made, rarely done on the phone or in person, anywhere outside the digital platform – the two realised that programmes like Chope and Opentable signed that F&B front-facing is all digital. Raj says, “we felt the time was right, to do it now.”

Why the Zebra though? Keith and Raj, sitting casually in the Zeemart offices clad in cartoon Zebra shirt prints, explain the imagery of the Zebra is because they want to make the “murkiness” of their client’s issues more black and white. Raj says, “industry producers very fragmented, but the zebra is black and white, very standard, no BS.”

Highlight the transparency and elegance they want to put forth professionally, Keith and Raj have been at it full-time for one and a half years now. With almost 50 people in three cities; Chennai, Medan and Singapore (and soon in Jakarta), Zeemart is no beast running along with the herd.

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