The World Health Organization predicts that between 2030 and 2050, climate change could cause roughly 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, heat stress and more. As far as the economy is concerned, Bill Gates says, “The damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every 10 years.”
Essentially, this means that unless the world comes together to build and deploy innovations that will help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, a climate disaster is imminent. This is the motivational force behind South-East Asian food manufacturer and distributor NR Instant Produce – a company that cares about the planet and its people.
“What really sets us apart and defines us is that we’re a purpose-led company,” NR Instant Produce CEO Dan Pathomvanich says. “From our vision and mission statement all the way down to our value chains, we really embrace sustainability.”
In fact, NR Instant Produce boasts the first and only privately owned food facility in Thailand that is carbon neutral. With its strong commitment to the United Nations Global Compact (the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative), the company places the planet at the heart of its work by implementing environmentally sustainable practices, initiatives and products that make a difference.
Transforming its supply chain from a model focused on price and speed to one that’s centred on partnership, conscientious decision-making and building a better future, NR Instant Produce’s vision is to make the industry a green one, ultimately benefiting the entire world. “Sustainability is the reason I do my job,” Dan says.
“I have two kids, and every time I leave for work, they ask me why I have to leave and tell me they miss me. It’s difficult, heartbreaking even. But being able to tell them that I go to work not just to make money, but to make the world a better place for them and for everybody, that’s my why. That’s how I justify it, and it’s what I love most about this job.”
While virtuous, his job doesn’t come without its challenges. Sustainability is the foundation upon which the business has been built – it’s the key thread that holds the organisation together. However, it can be hard, if not impossible, to measure.
“The problem with increasing sustainability is its definition is not very clear cut. It’s not a common metric,” Dan explains. “It’s been one of the biggest challenges internally and externally.
Internally, we’ve gone through an education process. But externally, a lot of companies don’t understand what sustainability is until they’re forced to by consumers.” Dan never wanted NR Instant Produce to be one of those companies. The leading global food manufacturer and distributor has always been ahead of the curve.
“We’re very long-term oriented. Rather than waiting for consumers to drive the change, we’ve been very proactive,” he says. For example, Dan created a sustainability division within the company. Thanks to quarterly meetings with employees championing the message of sustainability, he’s been able to get everybody aligned and on track with the company’s vision.
“Culture is probably the most important thing I focus on in our organisation,” he says.
“It’s challenging to convince people who have never even heard of sustainability to suddenly adopt it. But with a strong tone from the top, we’ve been able to get everyone aligned and passionate about what we’re doing.”
Dan has also mandated that his team spend time contributing to the company’s sustainability initiatives through various community works. Currently, they’re focused on nourishing those who need it most in light of the pandemic.
“As a food company, poverty and hunger are very important to us,” he says. “Last year, roughly 800 million people were said to be malnourished worldwide. And today, that number has probably tripled thanks to COVID-19. So we’re working with a charity called Flex Foundation that collects food and donates it to those in impoverished areas. We provide them with cost-effective, nutrient-dense food products to use in soup kitchens, giving those who need it access to filling, nutritious meals.”
Not only is it important for the health of the planet to embrace sustainability, but Dan says it’s also imperative for the health of a business. “Millennials are the largest segment in regard to purchasing power. They want products that align with who they are and what they value. And what they value also works better for the climate,” he explains.
“In business, if you don’t consider people and the planet, then you’re not going to go very far. But when climate change rears its ugly head in the next 30 years, businesses who don’t have an integrated sustainability strategy won’t survive. We are ahead of the curve, but companies who aren’t will find themselves relegated to last place, barely surviving.”
Dan also credits the company’s sustainability ethos to making it virtually pandemic proof. “Our focus on solving humanity’s problems has really paid off,” he enthuses. “We’ve been very lucky that the strategic plan we put into place has been positively impacted by the pandemic. We have three primary areas that we focus on – ethnic foods, plant-based foods, and functional products and food. All of these focus on different parts of society, and they’ve all been positively impacted. We’re in the best space we could be as a business.”
NR Instant Produce was founded in 1991. In 2017, Hong Kong-based investment organisation Hatton Capital Partners acquired the small, grassroots company. And in just three short years, the group completely transformed NR Instant Produce into the leading international business it is today.
“We spent the past three years focused on becoming a public company and figuring out who we wanted to be,” Dan says. “Now, the next three years is all about digitisation and determining how to use technology in terms of smart production, ecommerce sales, and data and analytics.”
Innovation is also high on the agenda. Dan says it’s key to making NR Instant Produce a stand-out in a saturated market. “Innovation is extremely important,” he stresses. “When there’s a good 300 companies doing some form of the same manufacturing, then how do you stand out? For us, that answer is threefold.
“The first thing is we’re vertically integrated, allowing us to control quality all the way upstream and downstream. Number two is we have a very big focus on R&D, figuring out how we can improve the product we deliver to our customers, even down to more sustainable packaging options.
“Lastly, we work with startups from around the world in various areas of our value chains, helping us keep abreast of new trends and technology.” Last year, NR Instant Produce partnered with an Italian company called V-Shapes to revamp its packaging lines. “V-Shapes offers global packaging lines with super-cool solutions,” Dan says.
“Partnering with them has provided a packaging solution for us that is very different and unique from what everybody else is offering. “Now, we’re looking at how we can buy these machines to make great products and place them in different facilities around the world to produce locally. ‘Made locally’ has become a huge trend, and this could be a really big growth opportunity for us.”
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