Technology for Social Good - Yimishiji and the Chinese food industry

Profile picture for user catheverett By Cath Everett October 17, 2017
Yimishiji, an online farmers’ market in China, is attempting to respond to the country’s ongoing food safety concerns while educating the public on environmentally-friendly and sustainable options at the same time – and it has just won an award for its efforts.

The latest participant in our ongoing ‘Tech for Social Good’ series is Yimishiji, an online farmers’ market in China that is one of six organisations to be awarded a Social Impact Fellowship from GLG. Receiving the Fellowship means that winners are given two years free-of-charge of access to GLG’s consultancy network of more than 500,000 experts in order to help them develop and grow.

Yimishiji opened its doors for business in September 2015 in Shanghai, with the aim of responding to China’s ongoing food safety concerns following a series of scandals . While the situation has prompted consumers to look for less risky food options, poor quality or non-existent information about food sources and how individual choices affect the wider food chain often make it difficult for them to know how to respond.

As a result, founder Matilda Ho’s goal in setting up the website was to create the first farm-to-table e-commerce platform that not only sells organic produce, but has also “reengineered food education and transparency into the entire supply chain and customer experience” in order to “inspire more conscious eating”. An important benefit of using an online platform beyond its obvious reach, she says, is being able to educate and inform people while they shop:

“Consumer education is essential. How do we engage consumers around complex food issues in a meaningful way? To bring visibility to all facets of food sustainability, we created a system of 19 labels such as ‘locally sourced’, ‘family-farmed’ and ‘pesticide-free’. We use our website and social media as storytelling vehicles to introduce consumers to each farmer who grows their food.

Not only does the website publish the address of each of the 70 farms it works with, it also organises farm visits for its 40,000 subscribers in order to build trust and encourage them to think about where their food comes from.

But Yimishiji – which means ‘one rice farmers’ market to symbolise its goal of helping create a better future food-wise, one customer at a time – likewise visits the farms continually itself to test that farmers are producing goods that match its high standards in being free from pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics and hormones.

Bits x Bites

The organisation, which currently has about 100 employees, also looks after marketing, branding, packaging, warehousing and delivering goods to customers’ doors in order to make it easier for small farmers to do business with it.

But the website isn’t Ho’s only venture. Last year, she also set up China’s first food tech-only accelerator and venture capital firm, Bits x Bites, to complement her existing business in its mission of building a “better food future”.

The company, which employs six staff, has just taken on its second batch of early stage start-ups focusing on tackling key challenges such as food security and safety, nutrition and consumer awareness. To be eligible for support, the start-ups may be based anywhere worldwide, but China must be one of their key markets. Ho says:

While Bits x Bites and Yimishiji are made up of totally different teams, they share a lot of synergy in driving food forward. For example, Bits x Bites’ start-up teams focus on consumer packaged goods, but Yimishiji provides a great platform to sell their products and to learn from consumer feedback and insights. For tech-focused teams, Yimishiji provides a site for pilot projects.

Food tech is only just starting to emerge as a serious area for investment in Asia despite it having been a hot topic in many parts of the US and Europe for a number of years now. But as Ho points out:

With the size of the market opportunity and the combination of food system challenges in Asia, we see great potential for food tech to catch up quickly and even leapfrog the West in some areas. Block chain is a perfect example. It’s now being applied to improve food traceability, particularly in China, where food safety concerns are widespread and there is a strong demand for a technology solution to mend consumer trust.

The next two organisations to be featured in this short series will be West Africa’s myAgro and the US-based Solstice Initiative.