Kuwait’s slow but progressive rise as the startup hub of Middle East has a lot of factors to thank. While the country is gunning on the path of inculcating the ideologies of Silicon Valley to achieve its startup hub status, even the local government has come forward to lend a helping hand in making the oil-rich country less dependent on oil.
It is expected that the private sector will play a leading role in shaping up the economy as more of a less oil-dependent nation, creating jobs for the next batch of youth population. This also coincides with the government’s agenda of making Kuwait, the world’s food capital by 2030. And to achieve this mission, a big part will be played by Food tech startups, food accelerators, culinary schools and organizing related and relevant conferences.
It might come off as a bit surprising, but it seems that the government is working towards and positioning itself to achieve that goal, faster than ever. On what basis are we saying this? – the rise of the food tech startups in the country, coupled by the fact that the two biggest acquisitions till date, have both been in the food industry – Talabat & Carriage.
Some of the factors that have given impetus to the rise of Food tech startups,
- A lot of times people love to be at the comfort of their homes and get things delivered to them, and the developers, with the internet penetration rate of 80%, banked on this very notion, which led to the surge in popularity of mobile apps (not just in food domain).
- Just last year Kuwait got its own food accelerator, in the name of Savour Ventures.
- Emergence of new and diverse digital concepts in the food space.
Let’s take a look at the top Food tech startups in Kuwait, who have been taking all the right steps until now.
Taking the crown as the first and the biggest Kuwaiti startup acquisition and the 2nd biggest in the entire MENA region, Talabat.com is the largest online food ordering platform in the whole of Middle East. Started in 2004 by Abdulaziz Al Loughani, and after covering the majority of the MENA region (Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia), it got acquired in 2015 by German e-commerce group Rocket Internet.
The startup, which offers a platform to connect users to the largest selection of restaurants in the entire region, to order food from, has recently forayed into Jordan and currently counts over 4500 restaurants as partners, including some of the big names such as Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut. Although Al Loughani had already sold the startup to Mohammad Jaffar in 2010, the former remained aboard the company. And it was Jaffer who later turned the company into a Middle East phenomenon.
Carriage’s story is not one of unknown today. After all, it was only the 2nd Kuwaiti startup to get acquired by a big company, after more than 2 years of dry spell, since Talabat was acquired in 2015. The ticket size of about a $100 million was an indication yet again that Kuwait has in itself, an environment to not only produce but nurture world class businesses as well. And that’s not even surprising. The fact that the company was acquired after just 15 months (founded in March 2016 – acquired in June 2017) is what turned a lot of heads.
Carriage was started by Abdallah Al Mutawa, Musab Al Mutawa, Khaled Al Qabandi and Jonathan Lau, and even before launching, the cofounders invested around $1.3 million of seed money. From the very start, the founders believed in having a full-fledged team of different facilitators, which led them to hiring a marketing team, customer service team, accountants, programmers, in addition to spending on a number of motorcycles, to be prepared beforehand only.
Apart from an ordering platform, carriage also offers delivery services to the restaurants for the food ordered by customers. Today, the order takes less than 30 minutes to get delivered and Carriage makes one KD for every order, irrespective of the location or the size of the order. The startup has also forayed into delivering health supplements, groceries and flowers and now has 500+ non-driver employees with thousands of vehicles onboard.
What makes the acquisition of Carriage unique is that it’s extremely rare for a company to raise only $1.3 million and get acquired by $100 million, and that too in such a short span of time. According to an old CrunchBase report, startups on average raise $30 million to get acquired for $100 million and they do that in approximately 7 years in operation.
Launched in 2014, by Ahmad Salamah, Latifa Benessa and Ali Al-Awadi, Bilbayt offers catering services in Kuwait and UAE. The platform was launched with an aim to bring more transparency and bridge the information gap, which at that time was persistent in the traditional catering models in Kuwait. But the trio of founders have managed to simplify the cumbersome and usually extensive process of catering, into something as simple as merely ordering food online.
Gunning towards satisfying today’s consumer needs to add culinary variety to their social gatherings, the platform connects both individuals and businesses with diverse Food & Beverage (F&B) retailers, covering buffet catering, cocktail catering, live cooking stations and food trucks as well. The startup made its foray into the UAE in late 2016 and has seen exponential rise, on the back of consistent demand, since then.
The major impetus to Bilbayt’s growth has been its end-to-end process of organizing events, which include the options of both drop-off and drop-on catering. A customer can login to the platform and can use the options of area, date and event time to look for suitable catering availabilities in real time. Today, bilbayt.com counts caterers such as Clinton Street Baking Company, Jones The Grocer, Shakespeare and Co., Wingsters, and corporate clients like Dubai Expo 2020 Schlumberger, and other banking and telecom companies, among its partners.
With Halal meat from the United seats and assorted cheese from Europe, Gourmet ME is another Food tech startup, pushing hard to realize the government’s agenda of making Kuwait, the world’s food capital by 2030. Launched in February 2016, by Hadi Ghader, Saud Al Fozan and Marwan Fares, Gourmet ME is an online gourmet grocery store, selling everything from groceries to sweets to seafood.
Starting with a capital of 50,000 KD, it was not all rosy when the trio started. Getting the word out is a challenge with every new business which coupled with odd website interface design (initial users claimed that the website was difficult to navigate and slow) caused for a bumpy and slow start to life for Gourmet ME. But they acted on their customer’s feedback and after a few iterations, things started getting on track.
Apart from providing customer support and interacting directly with their customers, Gourmet ME also recommends recipes and share trends in the F&B industry. It sources more than 500 different products from all over the world and have two options of same day delivery and next day delivery, if ordered after 3pm. The company is currently aiming to expand its same day delivery by adding more vehicles to its fleet. Last year, the startup also launched a Gourmet ME cocktail bar – a fully mobile beverage service, for large gatherings and social meetups.
A totally new and unheard-of concept, Pantry Bee, started in November 2016 by Yousef Al Munayes, Hind Al Awadi and Fawaz Al Sultan, delivers boxes of locally sourced, freshly packed ingredients, with a step-by-step guide to help customers cook their own meals. It offers a different menu of recipes (ingredients can be for two or a whole family) every week, and the boxes are delivered within 24 hours via refrigerated trucks.
Once your meal box arrives, all you have to do is to cook your meal, facilitated by user-friendly images laden recipe cards. The founders say that they have mostly relied on Word-of-Mouth and other grassroot efforts for marketing and feel that there’s still a lot of room for creating and growing brand awareness. The startup is currently focusing on growing locally in Kuwait and widening its customer base.
In October 2017, the startup raised a pre-seed funding round of $100,000, of which $50,000 was invested by Middle East’s first food accelerator – Savour Ventures.
On a weekly basis, you can find at least one vegetarian dish, one dessert, and 2 dishes from around the world. They have also partnered with other companies to offer kitchenware supplies on their website. Pantrybee’s HQ is housed in HAACP certified operating kitchens of Kuwait’s own Dan Foods company.