BY JEAN ALINGOD-GUITTAP, correspondent
RICE porridge is a staple morning meal in Cambodia, and so the idea of preparing it in less time is a welcome treat to consumers. The company behind the country’s first-ever instant porridge is Neaty Food. Its founder Ny Vourchnea is a recipient of a collaborative programme and internship at France-based IMT Mines Albi that covered, among others, the study and optimisation of transforming rice powder into a rehydratable porridge, assessment and improvement of the taste and nutritional properties, and the design of a manufacturing process at the scale of a Cambodian SME.
Ms Ny recently sat down with FoodPacific Manufacturing Journal to talk about the business idea she hatched when she was an undergraduate. She then developed the concept of a healthy and affordable meal that would create a sustainable impact for her country.
From left, Neaty Food founder Ny Vourchnea and co-founder Kry Sopity
are behind Cambodia’s first healthy instant rice porridge.
First of all, your background is in food engineering. What got you interested in this field, and how is it helping you manage Neaty?
I have been interested in food engineering since I was in high school. I just saw its potential in our daily life as it focuses on the food sector. I wanted to understand how food is made and not just on a kitchen scale. It helps me develop food products that have standards and in positioning Neaty as unique from other startups.
What sets Neaty apart from other companies?
Neaty in Khmer means “minute”. Our startup is about healthy instant food that helps consumers save time in cooking their meal. It aims to build a local brand name with the use of agricultural products in Cambodia. It focuses on the quality and safety of the product and by doing so is positively impacting our society.
What inspired you to start the business?
I always want to help other people by donating something or working for the community. However, I realised that if I want to make a sustainable impact, I should use my knowledge and interest, and start creating jobs for local people. Since I love food, I use it as a means to that end.
What steps did you take to gain traction especially in a market like Cambodia?
I entered my idea in business competitions. Thankfully it landed second place at the Business Model Competition and the CellcardLAB Competition, and as Best Innovative Project during the French-Cambodia Research Day of the French Embassy years ago. More than the grants, it was the network, experience, knowledge, and building up of business ideas that were crucial.
What were the challenges in making your prototype?
My team and I made our first prototype in 2018 during our undergraduate year. During that time, we didn't have much knowledge of the processing industry. We lacked technical support and time management, but the encouragement we received from our families and the community motivated us not to give up.
What did you do to address the difficulties you faced?
We sought the support of ImpactHub, FORICA, and other mentors. We also received some grants that helped us continue our work and test our prototypes. Back then, we added 500 ml of water to our rice powder and cooked it for 5 minutes.
What was the role of FORICA here?
FORICA is a non-profit organisation that has helped us access technical research on powder forming of instant rice porridge (from the Centre Rapsodee of IMT Mines Albi. It offers an original training programme directed towards the pharmaceutical and agri-food industries, supported by high-level research on the generation and forming of powders).
What are selling points of your products?
Neaty is the first instant congee produced here in Cambodia and has an original home-made taste. Our instant porridge comes in chicken, pork and seafood [flavours]. It’s 50g of dried weight, and you simply add hot water to it. Customers can decide to eat it as is or add extra ingredients to suit their taste and needs. Aside from being healthy, nutritious, stomach-friendly, our products are cheaper than imported ones. Each packet only sells for about 90¢.
What is the shelf life of instant porridge?
Our product comes in quality packaging and it is already dried, so its shelf life can extend to six months without any food preservative.
Where do you source your ingredients?
Mainly, we use agricultural products in Cambodia. We use the top-quality rice of Cambodia with the addition of dried vegetables that we process in-house.
How do you ensure quality?
We base it on scientific research of optimising the hygienic process, the right temperature, and using quality packaging.
How has the reception been from the Cambodian market?
I can say our product is rather new on the market in the sense that it is locally made. People are interested in it and want to have them in more flavours and widely available. Currently we maintain a small-scale operation, our capacity is still limited. However, we strongly believe in the flavours that we have and the value of promoting Cambodia’s local product.
What is your target market?
Our target customers are young professionals, university students and busy mums. We are making our products available on retail and wholesale and at marts, local markets and supermarkets.
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