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Food for thought: Raymond Guat

Raymond Guat’s mission to protect the environment started with his love for food. The segue was really quite simple. As a food distributor, he enjoyed providing people with things to eat; as an environmentalist, he wants to clean up after them.

Raymond Guat, Managing Director of Interchamp

Raymond is the Founder of Interchamp, a leading global distributor of food and beverage products established in Singapore in 2004. The company supplies to wholesalers, food service institutions and retailers, including supermarkets and convenience stores.

Apart from distributing for prominent brands globally, Interchamp also supplies for various house brands. From seafood to roti prata and coffee, the chances are you’ve eaten an Interchamp product without even realising it.

A few years ago, Raymond diversified into environmentally friendly products such as napkins, paper straws, disposable plates, cutlery, tableware and a full range of tissue products. Last year, he took his environmental responsibilities even further, partnering Interchamp with a world-leading clean-tech company, which uses cutting-edge technology to convert waste into organic fertiliser or animal feed.

“We want to be more than a food distribution company, we also want to be a solution provider,” Raymond explains. “From providing food, to supplying environmentally friendly products, to assisting with disposal and transforming the waste into something of value.”

“We want to be more than a food distribution company, we also want to be a solution provider.”

Raymond started out his career helping in his family food manufacturing business. Using his talent in sales and marketing, he solely spearheaded the establishment of various supply chains that have remained strong over the years.

In his 18 years spent there, Raymond opened countless distribution channels while actively participating in conventions and trade exhibitions around the world, before eventually mustering up the courage to follow his instincts and branch out on his own.

“I realised there were a lot of available opportunities to provide different products from the ones my other company was supplying,” Raymond recalls. “I also knew I could offer better value. There were a lot of challenges, however, as I was doing something completely new and there was no track record from anyone else to learn from.”

Raymond Guat, Managing Director of Interchamp

Today, Raymond employs more than 50 people, including regional managers scattered across Asia, Europe and America. Meanwhile, his strategy to infiltrate the wholesale and retail food and beverage market, while involving intensive research, is bordering on simple. “We offer what we think our customers need at better value,” he says.

“I either find out what the retailer is using for their house brand and try to tap into that existing product, or discover what new products would suit their particular house brand. It means we can supply direct from the factory without any intermediaries, which in turn means we get higher value from the supply chain.”

It was Raymond’s finely tuned intuition that led him to begin producing environmentally friendly products and become one of the first suppliers in Singapore to be endorsed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes responsible management of world forests.

He was also recognised as one of the pioneers in the industry to attempt using biodegradable materials to replace the use of plastics. However, his efforts went unrewarded when he hit the market in 2013 only to be rebuffed by retailers refusing to replace established brands and trusted suppliers with environmentally friendly products.

“We were buying FSC-certified raw materials, but nobody was interested,” Raymond remembers. “They didn’t understand, nor care, about the FSC. We were too early in the market. It wasn’t until later that year when the large-scale burning of Indonesian forests caused a thick haze over Singapore that the general public had a whole new awareness of the environment, and interest was aroused. We were able to quickly take over that gap in the business.”

While Raymond is still passionate about food and supplying good-quality produce, he concedes the legacy he’d like to create over the next decade is more focused on protecting the environment. “I’m still diversifying,” he says.

“The whole business model is evolving and my environmental project is still a baby. I’m still trying to put all the pictures together, to fix everything. I hope in five years’ time I’m able to establish a very concrete solution that really can help to improve the whole environment. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

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