Over the past 3 months of 2018, Myanmar enjoyed a foreign trade value of USD 11.5 billion. Compared to the USD 9.9 billion from the same period last year, it is an increase of over US$ 1.5 billion and foreign trade seems to be on good track. Nevertheless, a closer look at this year reveals a trade deficit of nearly USD 1 billion, with imports accounting for US$ 6.2 billion against exports of US$ 5.3 billion. Amidst the ongoing trade war between the world’s 2 largest economies, the country is also suffering from record high dollar against depreciating kyat, which further widens the deficit.
The main exports of Myanmar consist of agricultural & forestry products, minerals, fish & animal products, and raw industrial materials. However, recent years saw a rise in aspiring Burmese entrepreneurs that are putting Myanmar on the global map through another industry – food. From reinventing the flavors and ecofriendly packaging to addressing global food safety threats, here are the Top 5 Myanmar food startups:
1. Genius Coffee
The first on our list of Myanmar food startups is Genius Shan Highlands Coffee, an award-winning social enterprise established in 2012. The company currently employs 80 full-time staff, with their 2000+ farmers and households being members of the Danu Hill Tribe in Southern Shan State. Genius Coffee had a production volume of 150 tonnes in 2017 for a range of 11 products. Their services also include consultation and training regarding franchise operations, coffee origin tour and private label packaging.
Started as a family business, the SME has set up solid footprints in the international market, including Canada and Cambodia. The firm has ambitious goals to hit by 2020, as they plan to export their products to ASEAN nations (Singapore and Thailand), Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, the US, and European markets.
2. Tree Food
Since its establishment in 2015, Tree Food has brought Myanmar jaggery to various destinations across the globe. (Jaggery is a traditional Myanmar sweet which can be served either as a light snack or dessert after a heavy meal) Originally available only in plain flavor, Tree Food has reignited the stagnant local jaggery industry with its stylish, eco-friendly packages containing 5 varieties of flavors – plain, ginger, lemon, mint, and yoghurt. As Tree Food formulate and source their jaggery flavors from fresh fruits and organic ingredients, their products are completely free from additives and artificial flavoring.
This sweets company aims to make jaggery a popular souvenir of Myanmar, alongside longyi and thanakha. It has had a strong start in the local market and is one of the graduating companies at the 2018 Rockstart Impact accelerator.
Bayin is a social enterprise that imports peanut and sesame oils from Myanmar to the European market, specifically to the UK and Ireland. The crops are harvested from farms in Myin Sine, situated in the Magway region in Central Myanmar. Both oils are produced by cold press methods, which is an extraction via simple crushing with a rotating screw, in order to retain the aroma, flavor and nutritional values of the raw materials.
Bayin is a member of the Dublin Food Chain and their peanut oil was recognized as one of the 2017 Winners of the Great Taste competition, organized by the Guild of Fine Food in the UK and hailed as the ‘Oscars’ of the food world.
4. Myanmar Innovative Life Sciences (MILS)
Myanmar Innovative Life Sciences (MILS) is a bio-technology company for food safety along the food chain vertically. Anti-microbial resistance is an increasingly alarming threat to human patients, but its effect on livestock animals are often overlooked. Established in 2012, MILS is the first and only company in Myanmar to produce probiotics for animal feed, resulting in probiotics meat that is analogous to organic vegetables.
Supported by Responsible Business Fund (RBF) from Denmark, a food safety laboratory is in the pipeline to provide safety and nutrition testing for midstream producers. In the country with the shortest food miles to over 3 billion consumers of China, India and ASEAN, MILS aims to scale up food innovations in downstream Myanmar market.
Khaya, translated as Tea Kettle in Burmese, cherishes tea leaves harvested from some of the oldest, high-altitude, slow-growing tea bushes in the Shan highlands. Myanmar has a 2,000-year old rich history with tea as a symbol of peace, gifted between warring kingdoms; of harmony, gifted after a marriage; of justice, consumed after judgments were passed in courts; and of hospitality, served as a welcome drink for guests.
It is one of the products of Burgundy Hills Company Ltd., a Myanmar-focused agribusiness established in 2016. The company has footprints from sourcing and contract growing in the upstream all the way to processing, packaging and distribution in the downstream. In addition to tea, their portfolio includes grains & oil seeds, fruits & vegetables, and spices.
Myanmar (strategically located where China meets India) is home to fascinating food and cuisines in which her culture, traditions, and warmth are deeply enshrined. Additionally, there are dozens of hidden Myanmar food startups and local dishes left undiscovered by the world.
As highlighted by Htet Myet Oo, Founder of Rangoon Tea House, this ‘Mohingya Diplomacy’ can promote the uniqueness of this golden land and eventually bringing the international communities closer to the locals. In place of timber, underground and underwater resources, food is also a sustainable industry that can drive the economy with the creation of millions of jobs, and we can look forward to a larger share of Myanmar food products on the global shelves in the years to come.
Note: This article was written in collaboration with Ms. Thet Mon Aye, Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2016, Myanmar Entrepreneur.
Feature Image Credit: Bayin Food