S’pore Startup ‘Grain’ Ran Cloud Kitchens Before They Got Popular

“We were one of the very first cloud kitchens to serve customers without a storefront in 2015.”

“This was before the terms ‘cloud kitchen’, ‘ghost kitchen’ or ‘dark kitchen’ even existed,” said Yi Sung Yong, CEO and co-founder of Grain Singapore.

In 2014, the Grain team found itself asking the same question every day: “What do we eat today?

It’s a first-world problem and on a related note, eating every day should be as easy as a few clicks on your phone – not a mind-boggling math question.

This sparked the idea of ​​Grain being online first.

“This allows us to use data and a technology network to help us serve food to our customers that meets our basic needs: a healthy, tasty, affordable and convenient eating experience.”

Sung, along with three other co-founders – Ernest Sim, Gao Rifeng, and Isaac Tan – launched Grain in 2014.

(Clockwise from top left) Yi Sung Yong, Ernest Sim, Gao Rifeng and Isaac Tan / Image credit: Forbes

Their objective is to offer everyday meals, conscious of their health and their taste, by working with their own team of chefs and their delivery fleet in a “full-stack” model.

Running cloud kitchens before they get cool

Most food tech startups like Foodpanda and Deliveroo partner restaurants to deliver cooked meals to customers.

However, the co-founders of Grain took a different approach.

They adopted a cloud kitchen model – using unwanted real estate spaces as kitchens.

While cloud kitchens rent their space to catering companies as a cheaper way to prepare food for their on-demand delivery customers, Grain works with its own chefs, menu, and delivery team.

Cereal flour boxes
Image Credit: Grain

Their menu is designed by on-site chefs, and the platform offers shared meals for groups, as well as box-lunch combinations with side dishes and drinks. There are also desserts to cleanse the palate.

A regular meal costs from S $ 10.95 while their combos start at S $ 16.95.

Besides individual meals, the startup also offers buffets for corporate events and parties during the pre-COVID-19 days. These dishes are also prepared by their R&D team and their chefs.

Grain kitchen
Cereal cooking / Image credit: Grain

Users can place their orders through the website or mobile app through a standard ecommerce platform process.

All food is prepared and packaged at Grain’s own facilities, then delivered to customers by their own fleet of couriers.

We were, and still are, one of the few setting the standard for the full stack – controlling everything from ordering (technology) to cooking (food) to delivery (logistics).

By pushing the boundaries of how food makes us feel, we can build a community that has only one thing in mind: “What will we eat next?”

– Yi Sung Yong, CEO and co-founder of Grain

Become profitable in four years

They started the business with less than S $ 100,000 and after a year, Grain hit the S $ 1 million revenue milestone.

This is no small feat because among the four co-founders, only one of them has F&B experience and is a chef.

Isaac had trained under celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and is the main creator of the dishes on the menu.

cereal flour box
Image Credit: Grain

Despite being successful early in the business, Sung said they face challenges.

We had to figure out a lot from scratch and use first principles to solve industry specific problems, as we weren’t experienced restaurant people.

[Most of us] were former management consultants, software trying to disrupt F&B.

– Yi Sung Yong, CEO and co-founder of Grain

However, Sung said that “software and consulting [them] the technical skills and clear mind to build Grain. “

They received their very first external funding in January 2016 – a S $ 2.5 million Series A funding round led by OpenSpace Ventures.

The Grain team in 2016
The Grain team in 2016 / Image credit: Grain Facebook page

Another round of Series A was held at the end of the year and Openspace Ventures again participated and injected an additional S $ 1.7 million into Grain.

These four young game changers – their current average age is 32 – were quickly recognized and landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2016.

While a full-stack model gives them control over everything, it also presents challenges. They were first crippled by a small team of staff and operated on from a home kitchen.

When it moved to a sprawling new office with an industrial kitchen in 2017, Grain had to quickly adapt its processes.

Subsequently, a tour de force in February 2018 led by First Gourmet, FoodXervices and Majuven allowed them to raise an additional $ 1.7 million.

In December 2018, Grain reached profitability, which was “an important step for [them], because it proves that [they] have what it takes to be a sustainable business. “

One of S’pore’s fastest growing companies

grain delivery
Image Credit: Grain

Their latest Series B funding round in May 2019 raised US $ 10 million (S $ 13.6 million), led by Singha Ventures of Thailand.

They were delivering “thousands” of meals a day to Singapore – its only market – with eight-figure sales per year, Sung said in a 2019 interview with TechCrunch.

Growth was 200% in 2018 and it was soon time to spread their wings abroad. The startup has started looking to expand into other Asian cities, starting with Bangkok.

The funds raised would allow them to work with Singha to take advantage of its extensive catering network across the country, including logistics and distribution.

grain food
Wedding menu / Image credit: Grain

At that time, the 2019 funding cycle and business growth ranked Grain as the fifth fastest growing company in Singapore, according to research by The Straits Times and Statista.

In May 2020, Grain entered Thailand and opened three new branches in Bangkok in July.

They also embarked on five new projects: Wokaholic (American-Chinese cuisine), Hot Chick Buns (chicken-focused fast food), Holy Kao! and Krua Soi 9 (Thai favorites), and Fareground (a virtual dining room).

Cloud kitchens come to the rescue

Sung, who is Malaysian, said that during Covid-19, “B2B has taken great success with remote offices, but B2C has grown 10 times that much during this period.”

As Singaporeans are forced to stay and work at home, the delivery of food has led to a surge in demand.

Grain also quickly saw an opportunity to use its cloud kitchens to make bubble tea when stand-alone bubble tea shops were ordered to close.

We contacted KOI executives the same day. In three days, we signed an agreement and built a bubble tea factory in one of our cold kitchens.

We sold millions of dollars in bubble tea during this time.

– Yi Sung Yong, CEO and co-founder of Grain

Singaporeans could continue to enjoy their favorite drink through this partnership.

With the pandemic leading to the closure of catering establishments all over the world, cloud kitchens have become a catering alternative as the industry adapts to changing consumer demand.

Cajun Grilled Chicken Grain
Cajun Grilled Chicken / Image Credit: Grain

Just as coworking and shared office spaces have been touted as possible solutions for businesses to provide the option of flexible office spaces once the crisis has subsided, shared cloud kitchens could also help ease the burden. financial restaurants when it comes to renting kitchen spaces.

Additionally, the expansion of cloud kitchens could help fill the void created by in-house restaurants forced to close due to the economic fallout from the virus.

The next projects on their plate: launching high quality brands with a lot of customer love and producing their restaurant technology stack, Grain Atlas, which wants to become the “operating system” of F&B.

“We’ll also slowly open up new cities when we feel ready to deliver a great customer experience,” Sung said.

Featured Image Credit: General Assembly / Grain

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