Farmers and food businesses, like restaurants, deal with the same issue: a fragmented supply chain. Secai Marche wants to streamline agricultural logistics, making fulfillment more cost-efficient and enabling food businesses to bundle products from different farmers into the same order. The company is headquartered in Japan, with operations in Malaysia, and plans to expand into Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. This week, it announced 150 million JPY (about $1.4 million USD) in pre-Series A funding from Rakuten Ventures and Beyond Next Ventures to build a B2B logistics platform for farmers that sell to restaurants, hotels and other F&B (food and beverage) businesses.
This round brings Secai Marche’s total raised to about $3 million. The capital will be used to expand its fulfillment infrastructure, including a network of warehouses and cold chain logistics, hire more people for its engineering team and sales and marketing.
Secai Marche was founded in 2018 by Ami Sugiyama and Shusaku Hayakawa, and currently serves 130 farmers and more than 300 F&B businesses. Before launching the startup, Sugiyama spent four years working in Southeast Asia, including managing restaurants and cafes in Malaysia. During that time, she started to import green tea from Japan, intending to sell it directly to customers in Malaysia. But she realized supply chain inefficiencies not only made it hard to meet demand, but also ensure quality for all kinds of ingredients.
Meanwhile, Hayakawa was operating a farm in Japan and working on agriculture control systems that predicted weather and crop growth to help farmers maintain consistent quality.
Both Sugiyama and Hayakawa ended up at consulting firm Deloitte, researching how to create a more efficient supply chain for Japanese agricultural exports to Singaporean F&B businesses. Policies implemented by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration aim to increase Japanese agricultural exports from 922.3 billion JPY (about $8.5 billion) in 2020 to 2 trillion JPY (about $18.5 billion) by 2025, and 5 trillion JPY (about $46.1 billion) in 2030.
Seche Marche’s goal is to make it easier for farmers to sell their crops to F&B businesses domestically or overseas.
“We found that not only farmers in Japan, but also all farmers in Southeast Asia have the same problem in terms of the current supply chain,” Sugiyama told TechCrunch. “So we left Deloitte and started our own business to connect not only farmers in Japan, but farmers in all Asian countries.”
Secai Marche’s logistics management tech is what differentiates it from other wholesaler platforms. It uses an AI-based algorithm to predict demand based on consumption trends, seasonal products and farmer recommendations, said Hayakawa. Secai Marche runs its own warehouse network, but mostly relies on third-party logistics providers for fulfillment, and its platform assigns orders to the most efficient transportation method.
This allows F&B businesses to consolidate orders from farmers, so they can order smaller batches from different places without spending more money. About 30% of Secai Marche’s products are shipped to other countries, while the rest are sold domestically.
Secai Marche is reaching out to farmers who want to increase their customer base. About 30% of its products currently come from Japanese farms, 50% from Malaysia and the rest from other ASEAN countries. Sugiyama and Hayakawa said the COVID-19 pandemic affected Secai Marche’s expansion plans because it originally planned to enter Singapore this year, but had to slow down since they were unable to travel and meet with farmers.
On the other hand, many farmers have started selling directly to consumers through social media like Instagram or Facebook, and have approached Secai Marche for help with fulfillment, logistics, repacking and quality control.
Correction: Funding amount corrected to say $1.4 million instead of $1 million.