Thai Wah pursues corporate success with Sustainable Development Goals
In an era when people are adjusting themselves to cope with rapid changes in philosophy and technologies, the environment and sustainable development have now become important aspects to drive business growth apart from generating profits for shareholders.
The United Nations also has placed focus on these key aspects in the global interest.
Nation Thailand recently spoke to the chief executive officer of Thai Wah Public Company Limited, Ho Ren Hua, one of the new generation executives who prioritizes sustainable development.
As Thai Wah's business is related to food and agricultural products, he is mindful that its policies could affect our stakeholders, such as several farmers and consumers, both domestic and overseas. Excerpts from the interview:
Q: Could you tell me briefly about Thai Wah.
A: Thai Wah is an agri-food company based in Bangkok. We've been around for almost 75 years. Currently we have 15 operations around the Asia Pacific region, including Thailand, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Our core business is starch and starch-related food products. We run the largest vermicelli noodle operation in Thailand and Vietnam. Our brands, Double Dragon, Double Kirin and Phoenix, have close to 1 million consumers around the world. We are also one of the largest in the tapioca starch and food ingredients business in the region. People are used to starch ingredients, such as bubble tea, bakery mix, instant noodle, and processed food. Our third business is a new strategy, dealing in disposable and compostable plastic. These are the core businesses of Thai Wah. Our vision is Creating Innovation and Sustainability from Farm to Shelf.
Q: Let's talk about the food company. In the past couple of years, a lot of food companies and FMCG [Fast Moving Consumer Goods] food and beverage firms are really serious about sustainability and the environment. They are using innovation for products and production. What is Thai Wah's strategy for sustainable growth?
A: First of all, during Covid-19, I think, food safety and food hygiene are definitely very important. In fact, even before Covid-19, over the last few years, we have upgraded a lot of our facilities to make sure we have the highest quality of food safety and food hygiene to serve our customers. Over the last two years, we have innovated almost 10 to 15 new products every year, for example the vermicelli noodle, new products like “Pad Thai”, small rice noodle and large rice noodle, and we have more than seven different sub-brands in our rice noodle business. Last year, we also launched ready- to-eat products. The Thai Wah instant vermicelli noodle can be seen now in every 7-Eleven stores across Thailand. So, we have made efforts over the last two years, even before Covid-19, to continue to launch new innovative products to serve our customers.
Q: Recently Thai Wah became a member of UN Global Compact. How important is this step for Thai Wah?
A: It's very important because I've always said that sustainability has to be part of our vision and part of our core strategy. Thai Wah’s long-term vision is Creating Innovation and Sustainability from Farm to Shelf. We have over 15 operations in the Asia Pacific. We have more than 3,000 associates in our work force. So, really making sure we can provide a sustainable meeting for everyone is very important to us. We have also stated that any strategy we follow will be in line with UN SDG [sustainable development goals]. And we take care of F4 in Thai Wah‘s sustainable strategies -- Farm, Factory, Family and Food -- where we basically look at different initiatives and different projects to tie in with our long-term sustainability strategy.
Q: So what was Thai Wah's role at the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit.
A: We were a part of the opening panel. I spoke at one of the keynote panels for the UN Global Compact and it was very good to share with all the other delegates from different countries on how companies can do more to drive sustainability. I spoke a bit about Thai Wah's efforts in technology innovation. For example, we are now launching a new type of tech innovation for farmers in Thailand, and we are looking at different types of digital services for farmers, focusing how to improve their productivity. So, Thai Wah is seeking for new innovative Agri-Technology and smart farming solutions models for farmers. At the same time, I also spoke during the panel at the UN Global Compact. It's very important for companies to take care of their people. Right now, we're still in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis. So, it's very important to make sure that all associates are safe and healthy and healthy hygiene is maintained. One of the key things for any company is to vaccinate its workforce as quickly as possible.
Q: We have heard about Thai Wah's focus on sustainability to save the planet and the environment, and your focus on sustainable packaging, plant-based food, and use of applications for Thai Wah’s farmer network. Could you tell us about these three projects.
A: Recently, THAI WAH has innovated “ROSECO”, which is a unique type of thermoplastic starch resin derived from Tapioca starch and 100% disposable. It can be used in various applications such as shopping bags, plastic packaging, or plastic bottles and utensils. It can helps increase the sustainability of plastic products with our ROSECO functional thermoplastic biopolymers made from tapioca based, which can replace 30-50% of petroleum-based or compostable polymer resins without reducing the strength of the products or adding manufacturing steps. Reduce costs, improve quality, and reduce the carbon footprint. It can be used in various applications such as shopping bags, plastic packaging, or plastic bottles and utensils.
And finally, sustainable packaging that will be the first tapioca-based bioplastics. It will be launched by the end of this year, around November or December. This will be the first and pioneering tapioca-based bioplastic in Thailand. It’s mainly for the export market. We already have customers in China, Europe and in the US. In next 3-5 years, we target Thermoplastic Starch (TPS) line will generate sales around 10% of our total sales.
For plant-based food, we are launching a new product this year, based on a plant-based protein. In Thailand, there are many different crops in many parts of the country, such as tapioca, rice, sugar cane, mung bean, for plant-based protein. We are looking at different raw materials to produce different protein for food applications for global needs. We've been doing a lot of R&D. And it’s essentially looking at how we can use protein from plant food from Thailand to serve the rest of the world. In terms of farm technology, we are starting to launch an application for farmers. We are dealing with a few thousand farmers around Thailand, including areas such as Udon Thani, Kalasin, Korat, Rayong, and Mae Sot, to promoting long-term community development through innovation that supports the building of sustainable communities, improve overall global supply chain and increase farmer livelihoods.
Q: So, what are Thai Wah’s sustainable development goals?
A: As I mentioned, I think our goals about sustainability would tie in with the UN SDG. So, we thought of Farm, Factory, Family and Food. Currently, we're starting to identify goals and carbon footprint reduction approaches in the organization through the entire value chain. We are now working through different audit and certifications, and plan to disclose and certify in the GHG emission verification within the second half of this year and expand the calculation to all starch plants in Thailand in 2022 and Vietnam in 2023. I understand the total Thai Wah value eco-system and how we can reduce our carbon footprint in the long term.
Q: Could you explain about the collaborative model for corporate action towards sustainable development goals?
A: I think it's very important that companies work together, and companies work with the private sector and public sector to develop new types of innovation. No company can work alone, so it's very important for Thai Wah to collaborate with many key universities in Thailand, strategic partners, other institutions, and startups, such as startups in the US and Vietnam for new solutions and new prototypes. Only through collaboration, you can bring in new ideas, because one company cannot do everything by itself.