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Food Fight: Three Challenges F&B Start-ups Take On in Asia

Philippine food entrepreneurs weigh in on the Asian food scene’s biggest hurdles

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 18 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Last October 11, The Spark Project and Globe Telecom partnered together to bring the Food Start-up Summit in Manila to find the Philippines’ next big food entrepreneur. The pitch contest sizzled, as 10 contenders left the audience drooling over lip-smacking burgers, beef tapa, Mexican fare, vegetarian food, healthy frozen yogurt, milk tea, and roti canai, among others. Bagwings, an enterprise specializing in bagnet (deep fried crispy pork) and chicken wings cooked in a special chili sauce, emerged as the Grand Prize winner and won spots in Globe Telecom and Mercato markets, and a mentorship package.

The winners, as well as Mercato food market entrepreneur and pitch contest judge RJ Ledesma, dish out insights on the challenges faced by the Asian food start-up industry and their proposed solutions. Three things to chew on:

1. There’s a tendency among start-ups to over-expand when the demand isn’t enough.

Ledesma says certain food items like inutak (Filipino layered sticky rice cake) and vegetarian food are not as fast-moving as savory fare like rice and viands. Before expanding one’s business, it’s important to note customers’ taste, preference, and culture. Sometimes, there are startups selling food items that aren’t really anything special.

Food Start-Up People’s Choice winner Aiza Mesina of La Carnita Modern Mexican Cantina says that while it is important to have a unique product, people must be familiar with what you are selling. “That’s what I kept in mind when I started La Carnita — that people would recognize the product and try it for themselves,” she says.

2. Forget the frills; deliver on quality and taste instead.

There isn’t a shortage of hyped up product offerings in the local food and beverage space, points out Mesina. Nothing wrong with such frills, but make sure the product also delivers in terms of palatability. Mesina’s delectable nachos ala bomba nails this. “I made sure that my products are sustainable,” she shares.

3. The food industry can be too fast-moving and diverse in big cities like Shanghai.

Joshua Antonio of BagWings also owns a food and beverage business in Shanghai, China. He says the city can be fast-moving, with various demographics. Antonio says it’s important that enterprises reintroduce themselves, especially smaller businesses that aren’t as popular as the bigger chains in the food industry.

“If you’re a start-up business or if you’ve had your business for a couple of years, you need to have that grit, determination, and drive to talk to different people, organizers, etc. [to reintroduce yourself],” he says. Managing a food business, shares Antonio, is more challenging in Shanghai compared to Manila. “Once you’ve established yourself in Manila, it’s really just a matter of doing business and expanding. It’s not like that here [Shanghai]. People here are leaving because their contracts have ended or they need to go to school. So this is a more challenging place.”

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