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When it comes to the F&B sector, there is no doubt that digitization has changed the very fabric of how the industry operates. But here’s the catch: much of these advancements –from the growth of cloud kitchens to the rise in digital food orders– have primarily been occuring in the B2C segment. However, a lot of operations in the B2B space, especially those that take place between food suppliers and other food entities, still fall behind in the digitization curve- and this was a problem that Manar AlKassar and Ahmed Soliman, co-founders of the UAE-based restaurant supply management platform Kaso, sought to solve.
“Initially, we were working [towards] a quite different business– we were building a tech-enabled 10-minute coffee delivery in partnership with existing restaurants,” the co-founders recall. “However, after speaking with restaurant owners, we discovered two major problems in the F&B industry. Firstly, procurement was one of the biggest challenges they faced, with processes being mostly manual, pen- and paper- based, or on WhatsApp. Some restaurants still use their fax machines from 30 years ago to place their orders! Secondly, food waste was a significant issue that nobody seemed to be tackling effectively. While the F&B industry has become the poster child of our digital lifestyle, with customers being able to order anything and receive it within minutes, the B2B food ordering processes are deeply flawed, and lagging far behind. This inspired us to pivot our idea, and focus on creating a platform that would streamline the supply chain, minimize food waste, and improve overall sustainability in the food industry.”
Now, the operational shortcomings that AlKassar and Soliman observed had clearly been at play for many years now. But it was the COVID-19 crisis that fully revealed just how fragmented the B2B food supply chain was. And while it was a startup that was launched right in the midst of the pandemic in 2021, Kaso was able to tackle the aforementioned challenge head-on. “The supply chain was significantly disturbed during the pandemic, with a lot of uncertainty and disruptions in restaurants’ ability to forecast their needs,” AlKassar says. “To address these pain points, we developed a platform that helps restaurants find alternative suppliers and products within our extensive network, reducing their reliance on a single supplier, and ensuring continuity in their operations. Furthermore, we assist restaurants in finding new suppliers when their existing ones cannot handle the demand. Our platform also offers better forecasting tools, which help restaurants reduce food waste by optimizing their procurement processes.”
The Kaso team. Source: Kaso
With a focus on fine dining establishments, Kaso’s target market therefore includes restaurants, cafes, hotels, and food service providers in the MENA region, and in just under two years since its launch, it has already partnered with over 5,000 F&B partners in the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Notably, Kaso has also found favor from renowned quick service restaurant franchises like Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Caribou Coffee, and casual dining brands such as Chili’s and Buffalo Wild Wings. Once registered on the Kaso platform, any given restaurant can start using its services within 24 hours, where it can access tools such as real-time inventory management, demand forecasting, order tracking, and an analytics platform that offers custom-built reports based on its specific needs. “Some of the most compelling feedback we’ve received includes clients who have found Kaso to be a gamechanger, revolutionizing the way they manage their supply chains,” the co-founders add. “Restaurants have been particularly pleased with our user-friendly interface, seamless integration with suppliers, real-time updates, and valuable insights provided by our reporting features.”
Right from its first client, the Kaso team witnessed how restaurants were able to reap the benefits of improved operations through its tools. But the team also realized that to keep procurement inefficiencies completely at bay, it was necessary to integrate the suppliers themselves into its solution. “One key differentiating factor of our platform is that we provide customized solutions for both restaurants and suppliers, catering to their unique needs and requirements,” AlKassar explains. “For suppliers, we offer access to a large and diverse network of clients, along with tools for managing orders and deliveries to increase operational efficiencies and reduce waste. The advanced analytics platform is also extended to suppliers, assisting them with customer management and acquisition. Furthermore, our marketplace plays a dual role in catering to the needs of both groups. For restaurants, the marketplace helps them find the best prices, while for suppliers, it serves as an effective sales tool to showcase their products and reach a wider clientele.”
Manar AlKassar, co-founder, Kaso. Source: Kaso
Before going any further, however, it is perhaps important to get an idea of the magnitude of the problems Kaso is solving. A 2019 report by UK-based food waste solutions firm Winnow, that took data from 450 restaurants across 25 countries including the UAE and Qatar, shows that over 70% of food waste occurs even before it can get to a customer’s plate. The report also found that overproduction accounts for approximately 80% of the cost of this waste- and it is a problem that has unfortunately increased over the years. “Today 40% of all food produced lands in the trash,” AlKassar explains. “When realizing that 70% of that actually happens before it reaches the end customer, it’s obvious that apart from the moral responsibility, there is also a huge economic opportunity to optimize the food system. We help to reduce food waste by enabling restaurants to order and receive only the necessary amount of ingredients, reducing over-ordering and spoilage. Additionally, Kaso provides a platform for suppliers to sell their near-to-expiry products rather than tossing them out, helping to balance over-capacities from one player to another. As a result, Kaso has helped to reduce food waste by up to 20% for some of its clients, and also helped restaurants save over two hours daily on operational tasks and decreased incorrect order deliveries by 80%.”
Now, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the inefficiencies discussed so far have been described in broad strokes. After all, supply chain issues can often show up with nuances that are specific to the F&B ecosystem of a given country. Aware of such differences, AlKassar and Soliman have mindfully placed no rigidity in how Kaso offers its services- a strategy most evident in how the duo have distinguished between the UAE and Saudi markets. “Procurement in KSA is more challenging due to the difficulties in importing goods,” the duo explain. “To cater to the preferences of our KSA clients, we even built a WhatsApp integration, as they mainly use WhatsApp for communication. This allowed us to build a solution around what they were already using. On the other hand, the UAE market is technologically more mature, which helps us integrate with existing systems. We are learning and adapting our approach to suit each market’s unique characteristics. Moving forward, we’re planning to expand into two more markets this year, further broadening our reach and impact on the F&B industry in the MENA region.”
Ahmed Soliman, co-founder, Kaso. Source: Kaso
Such curated approaches have allowed Kaso to garner the interest of investors from around the world. In September 2021, it raised a pre-seed round of US$2.1 million led by Germany-based venture capital firm Global Founders Capital and China-based investment firm MSA Capital. In February 2022, the startup also received funding from US-based technology startup accelerator Y Combinator. Then, in January 2023, Kaso also entered into a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia-based point of sale and restaurant management platform Foodics, to solidify its presence in the Kingdom. “KASO has been fortunate to receive funding from some of the most prominent and prestigious investors not just in the region, but in the world,” Soliman says. “Some of our investors have been a major drivers in bringing disruption to the customer-facing side of the food industry in supporting companies like Delivery Hero, Doordash, Foodics, Kitopi, and now share our vision to disrupt the B2B food supply of the food industry.”
But Kaso is far from achieving its ultimate vision at this stage, AlKassar and Soliman reveal. “Digitizing the ordering process between restaurants and suppliers is only the beginning of a long journey to disrupt the whole food supply chain and make it more efficient, transparent, and sustainable- from the farmer to the restaurant table,” they say. “Our ambitious plans extend beyond just facilitating seamless transactions. We also hope to bring more of that transparency and traceability to the end-customer at the dining table in the restaurant – for example, by enabling tracking of where your produce is coming from, and also implementing features like ‘tip your farmer.’ At KASO, we believe in the transformative potential of technology and collaboration to reshape the entire F&B landscape, fostering a more sustainable and thriving ecosystem for everyone involved.”
‘TREP TALK: Manar AlKassar and Ahmed Soliman, co-founders of Kaso, shares their tips for entrepreneurs in F&B
1. Understand and listen to your users. “That’s something that is relevant to any entrepreneur in all industries. Y Combinator’s motto of ‘make something people want’ puts it pretty much in one sentence.”
2. Patience and resilience are key. “On your journey of disrupting industries, you will hear a lot of no’s. When taking on a huge challenge, you will face a lot of obstacles- don’t give up. In retrospect, it always seemed so simple and easy, but it never was as easy as it later looks.”
3. Stay flexible and adaptable. “The F&B industry is constantly evolving and changing. Trends are coming and going fast, but build something that lasts.”
4. Impact matters. “Building something which positively impacts thousands of people is not an easy journey, but incredibly rewarding. Don’t forget to enjoy the ride and not the goal. Be good, do good!”
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