Agtech in the west is aiming high and this start-up is a perfect example
Using technology to solve consumer concerns is nothing new in the 21st century. But two brothers from Geraldton in Western Australia have taken it to a whole new level, utilising blockchain expertise to track premium Australian food from the farm gate to its final destination in China – and facilitating sustainable, and global consumer interactions.
When James and Rhys Williamson returned from Beijing to Western Australia in 2017 they’d seen firsthand the concerns that existed around food authenticity and provenance, especially red meat.
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“There was a lot of attention and questions around Australian beef, like, ‘where is it from?’ and ‘is it what it says it is on the pack?’ and that definitely planted a seed,” James explained.
“It was the catalyst for us starting Latitude 28 Produce, a platform focused on provenance and properly authenticating premium Australian meat products in China.
“We knew there was a strong demand for it, but it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to refine, test, and test again. We chose to go to market to and test with consumers really early, so we knew what was resonating and what was falling flat.”
During the testing and refining stage in 2018, the potential of Latitude 28 Produce was recognised by Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) – through its Asian Market Export grants program.
Joan Lim, Manager Primary Industries Trade at DPIRD said the co-investment with Latitude 28 marked the initial implementation of their blockchain application to track livestock from a Western Australian farm through the entire supply chain to the end consumer in China.
“This was initiated to offer additional value to livestock exports and determine the viability of the technology to help manage issues like counterfeit meats being sold in overseas markets,” she explained.
“The project delivered a number of important market insights around overseas consumer education on blockchain authenticated supply chains and their willingness to opt for a verified over non-verified supply chain, and how blockchain protocol must be anchored to final packaged products for authentication to be successful.”
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Rhys Williamson said the critical consumer testing was a priceless project that’s underpinned everything the company has proceeded with since.
“It was our first connection with DPIRD at the time, but since then they’ve supported us in so many different ways to help this venture get to where it is now,” he said.
One of those ways was introducing Latitude 28 Produce to AgriStart Pty Ltd, the organisation that facilitates the DPIRD-backed HARVEST Agtech Accelerator Program.
“Going into the three-month HARVEST program in 2018 we found like-minded people who were also facing those general business challenges of a startup that aren’t too unique,” James said,
“Up until we’d started that HARVEST program we’d been doing our own things, and quite focused on what was right in front of us without taking the time to broaden the horizon with multiple networks.
“HARVEST created that exposure point and it allowed us to stand back again, and focus on the company. It was a great central point to have all these professional service providers and experts there to help create results and a profile,” said James.
Tash Teakle leads AgriStart and since 2016 has delivered six HARVEST programs.
“It has been an incredibly diverse mix of participants, to date with more than 50 agtech start-ups having gone through the program,” Tash explained.
“Some already have a farming or agriculture background, but many don’t, and that’s exciting to work with. The guys from Latitude 28 absolutely had a foot in both camps, in that they grew up on a farm but they didn’t have the networks into the investment space or agri corporates, so that’s where we helped them a lot.
“We’ve been so lucky to have DPIRD as a founding partner in the program as it gave us credibility and also allowed us to get corporate sponsorship too, which in turn supported our program participants.
“We don’t take equity and don’t charge participants, there is quality mentoring and significant development of commercial skills, which is good for the sector, and State Government has had a great role to play.
“Presenters cover topics like strategy, commercialisation, partnering, intellectual property, export markets and pitching skills, and each program concludes with a showcase event. Key staff from DPIRD are also very involved in the program which is incredible – they bring a lot of value, especially to participants like James and Rhys who are so coachable and willing to take on new ideas.”
It’s those connections and that mindset that’s seen the Latitude 28 Produce platform build Orijin Plus – now a company in its own right.
Orijin Plus technology was built to solve supply chain issues and the lack of end consumer connectivity faced by Latitude 28 in China.
The platform was adapted and further developed as a new agtech solution for the food industry using Latitude 28 as a primary use case, and after in market validation the Orijin Plus platform was established as a new start-up business.
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Rhys said the fundamentals of the platform use blockchain technology and a novel loyalty point system to certify the source of a wide range of food products, which has resulted in increasing the trust in authentic, quality Australian produce.
“The platform unites multiple brands through the use of the common loyalty authentication points, which allows brands to collaborate at scale and form a powerful multi brand marketing coalition,” he said.
“Traceability is the main benefit of the platform, and is increasingly demanded by consumers that want to know where their food products come from. In addition, it helps to connect product brands directly to customers, helping to facilitate a more direct relationship between the brand and their customers.
Opportunities exist in global markets, but Singapore and other countries in Asia are where the founders have their sights firmly set.
“India has a billion-dollar opportunity to be able to create this ecosystem at a supermarket shelf level. Because, essentially, that’s where we’re changing consumer behaviour at the shelf. And with that shift, naturally, there’s big prospects,” James said.
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Joan Lim from DPIRD said one of the key priorities of the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development is to support Western Australian agribusinesses like Latitude 28/Orijin Plus in their efforts to be internationally competitive – whether that’s through raising capital or expanding their markets.
“Orijin Plus certainly are keen to grow and engage with international markets, and over the years we have been pleased to support their efforts through our investor readiness, agritech, food industry innovation and export development programs,” she said.
“Through these interactions, Orijin Plus and their principals, Rhys and James Williamson, have impressed us with their highly positive, entrepreneurial mindset and their ability to generate and communicate convincingly a clear win-win proposition for their company and the clients their platform serves.
“Succeeding in international markets, takes lots of intel, resources and effort, and for primary industries in particular, there are unique challenges such as market access protocols, food standards compliance and beyond.
“As the lead agency for primary industries in Western Australia we appreciate this and have committed to working closely with agribusinesses and support them through various stages in their journey – whether a business is just entering into or seeking to expand their presence overseas, it is worthwhile for them to engage with us.”
And the same can be said for start-ups and investors alike when it comes to participating in evokeAG. 2024 to be held in Perth on 20-21 February 2024.
Acting Manager of Investment Services for DPIRD, Peter May, said “evokeAG. is a fantastic event for start-ups, agribusinesses, farmers, innovative food producers, investors and researchers to learn about industry drivers and trends, to network, and to promote their businesses in a very positive and engaging environment,”
“DPIRD has supported delegations of start-ups from Western Australia to attend the previous events in Melbourne and Adelaide, and it is very exciting that Perth will be the Host City Partner for evokeAG. 2024,” said Peter.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development was a partner for the evokeAG. 2023 event and is the Host City Partner for evokeAG. 2024.
Save the date for evokeAG. 2024 on 20-21 February 2024 in Perth, Western Australia. In the meantime catch up on the other conversations about sustainability, climate resilience and the role of agtech in meeting those challenges from evokeAG. 2023 here.