Next big plant-based milk? Thai sesame milk firm targets China and Taiwan in global expansion push
The producer of white and black sesame milk (branded: Sesamilk), the company first launched the products in March 2019, and has sold 635,000 units.
In 2021, the firm is aiming to sell two million units, as it focuses on expanding into international markets.
It was launched in China December 2020, and is hoping to enter Taiwan early 2021 with the same distributor, tapping on the upcoming Chinese New Year festival.
Sesamilk is also sold in Japan since 2019, Macau, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
Australia, India and US are now in the pipeline for the company, according to Siripen Suntornmonkongsri, CEO at Sesamilk Foods.
Sesame is an ingredient familiar to many consumers, Suntornmonkongsri said.
“People eat sesame for more than 4,000 years, it’s in the culture of every country from Asia, Europe to America.
“Most sesame is consumed in the form of desserts like sesame paste, or as a topping on burger buns, or in the form of sesame oil.
“It’s a familiar taste for the Asian palate, unlike walnut or macadamia which are harder to access.”
Health benefits and sustainable
Sesamilk is part of a family business (Tang Ying Wattana) which is involved in sesame hulling. The business dominates 80% of the sesame seed market in Thailand. The seeds are sourced from Thai contract farmers.
According to Suntornmonkongsri, they were inspired to develop new products from sesame as a raw material.
“Sesame is a superfood, but it has to be eaten in the right way to be effective.”
Sesame seeds contain sesamin, sesamol, and sesamolin compounds, which in a liquid form are more effectively absorbed in the human body, compared to its solid seed form.
Sesamilk’s beverages were a result of a collaboration with King Mongkut's University in Thailand, after more than 100 trials and two years of R&D.
The main functional ingredient in sesame milk is the sesamin compound. Sesamin is a major lignin known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Its white sesame milk contains 392mg of sesamin per 200mL while the black sesame milk contains 30mg/200mL.
Suntornmonkongsri explained that in the black sesame milk, sesamin is being transformed into sesamol, a phenolic compound known for its antioxidant properties.
She told FoodNavigator-Asia sesame milk was an alternative option for people who are allergic to dairy and soy.
“About 15 to 30% of people allergic to dairy will also be allergic to soy because of the size of the protein. Soy protein is about the same size as dairy protein, which makes it harder for people to digest.”
In addition, sesame milk is an option for people allergic to nuts, or want to avoid GMO products, which is particularly true for soy milk. Sesamilk is suitable for children to the elderly.
Sesamilk products also do not contain any additives such as oil, homogeniser, stabilizer or thickener typically found in most plant-based milk.
It mostly contains unsaturated fat which helps to reduce cholesterol and protect heart health.
The only ingredients apart from sesame that the company adds is prebiotic and sunflower lecithin, an ingredient commonly used in supplements to improve eyesight and brain health.
Besides health benefits, sesame uses 22% less groundwater to grow than soy, and much less than cow’s milk.
“Sesame is a drought resistant crop, so it is good for tropical climates like in Thailand. If we can sell more sesame milk, we can help our farmers grow more.”
“A decade ago, Thailand was the top 10 exporter of sesame worldwide, but now we import from water-scare countries like Myanmar, India, and Nigeria.”
Sesamilk’s beverages are shelf stable, having undergone ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing.
“Being shelf-stable for one year allows us to export our beverages. If we were pasteurised, the milk would only have 7 to 14 days of shelf life,” Suntornmonkongsri said.
The firm cleans and roasts the sesame seeds at the Tang Ying Wattana manufacturing site, before milking and conducting UHT through OEM services in Thailand.
Today in Thailand, Sesamilk is sold in more than 500 supermarkets, minimarts and convenience stores, as well as online (Shopee, Lazada, Facebook store).
Before the pandemic, about 80% of its domestic business was via modern trade and 20% e-commerce, however e-commerce has since risen to 40% as the firm started to focus on its online sales channel.
“People couldn’t shop in the supermarket and they switched to online. Thai people use a lot of Facebook so we also use our (Facebook) platform to share information on healthy foods,” Suntornmonkongsri said.
Cost-wise, Sesamilk prices is competitive with other premium plant-based milk in Thailand such as almond and walnut.
In China, Sesamilk is sold on Taobao, and Tmall.
In Japan, sales are still mainly through magazines, AEON and Natural Lawson (convenience store selling healthier options).
The company is working on developing more flavours including matcha, chocolate and vanilla variations of sesame milk, scheduled to launch later this year.
It is also focusing on the B2B market, developing powdered, concentrate and flour formats this year.