Thailand has recently been named as one of the top destinations for Chinese tourists. The continuously rising number of Chinese travelling abroad means a greater exposure to foreign culture, including its culinary.
Nitinagin Mingrugiralai believes that tourists who had been to the kingdom might want to have the opportunity to taste food from the country once again —without the hassle of having to travel abroad or visiting a restaurant.
“One day if they want to introduce the foreign cuisine to their friends, Thai food will be the best choice for them to introduce,” Mingrugiralai said in a written interview with e27.
This is why the entrepreneur then founded The Flying Thai Food, an online restaurant that delivers Thai food to customers in tier-two cities in China.
Using its own website, WeChat, and TaoBao as sales channels, the startup delivers ready-to-eat, vacuum-sealed boxset to Thai food fans in cities such as Guangzhou, Liuzhou, Nanning, and Shenzhen.
To complement its online presence, The Flying Thai Food also has a physical restaurant in Guilin, with the team running the company from a headquarter and R&D centre in Bangkok.
Founded in 2018, The Flying Thai Food targets China’s US$733 billion restaurant market. In addition to Chinese tourists who had been to Thailand and fans of Thai food, the service also targets single women aged 20-40 and women with children as their audience.
Mingrugiralai explains that the physical restaurant is meant to help with the company’s O2O strategy.
“After the e-commerce era in China, we found that most of the big commerce companies here have been trying to go to offline in order to be the dominant player of O2O market,” he explains.
“Yes, we started with Thai food, but we will develop ourself to be O2O player. The special thing about our restaurant is that 50 per cent of our offline customers are 80 per cent of our online business customers, who are spending three times more than non-online customers,” he continued.
Apart from the public’s enthusiasm about Thailand and its cuisine, China is also an ideal choice for The Flying Thai Food to run an O2O business due to its excellent e-commerce infrastructure. For example, international food shipping from the country to Hungary only takes seven days.
“In some cities such as Yiwu in Zhejiang, the local government even promised that they will sponsor every tomyum packages that we ship overseas … if we set our production house in Yiwu. So, I can say that China really supports e-commerce ecosystem, especially if we are targetting overseas commerce,” Mingrugiralai says.
In the international community, Thai is often considered as one of the most popular and widely acceptable Asian cuisines. So what makes The Flying Thai Food feel confident about entering this sector?
For the company, their advantage lies in their location. According to Mingrugiralai, there are 1,200 Thai restaurants registered in China but 81 per cent of them are located in tier-one cities.
The Flying Thai Food is looking to reach out to other cities through their online and offline presence.
Inside the kitchen
The story of The Flying Thai Food began all the way in 2010. As a student in Europe, Mingrugiralai was deeply impressed by luxury food stores in places such as Fauchon, and wanted to do the same thing with Asian cuisine.
Fast forward to 2016, Mingrugiralai was working at KKday in Taiwan when he noticed that many local restaurants are using MRE box to sell mala hotpot. He then went on a holiday to China with his wife and noticed the e-commerce infrastructure available in the country.
“I talked to my wife that I wanted to make tomyum MRE boxsets and sell it in Taobao. She supported me and then we started. However, I was still doing my full-time job until December 2018 when I started working full-time for The Flying Thai Food,” he says.
Following the advice of his father, Mingrugiralai then recruited a former US Army food safety specialist Mongkhon Sarikanon as co-founder and Chief Food Specialist. Sarikanon moved to China and the company started producing tomyum boxsets.
Mingrugiralai explains to e27 that the company is currently preparing to raise funding. At the early stage, the funding will be used to support their China expansion plan, which includes the setting up of new physical restaurants and delivery areas.
After that, The Flying Thai Food aims to fly Thai food to a wider international market, starting from India.
“We also have plan for Europe and US market. However, we are still studying about the suitable ways to go to the markets,” Mingrugiralai says.
The company expects to see greater sales coming in from their online channels as it plans to introduce more products and recruit more team members.
“We aim to get our sale for this year to US$1.5 million. Sixty per cent of the revenue will come from online and we are on the way to this number already. We will still continue to expand our chain restaurants with our partners in many tier-two and tier-three cities in China for 2019, in order to avoid competition, but at the same time we can also reach a bigger customer base,” Mingrugiralai elaborates.
In the future, The Flying Thai Food does not want to limit itself to selling Thai food, though it will remain the core of their business.
“We will import European products to sell in our online store and to produce healthy food from Canada with our Canadian partners. So, in our next step, we will start adding more variety of foods and products into our stores,” the CEO closes.
Image Credit: The Flying Thai Food