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GOPIZZA is a startup pizza brand that aims to revolutionise the global food industry by serving hot pizza within five minutes of ordering. Now in the second phase of its growth, GOPIZZA recently partnered with South Korea’s GS25 convenience store chain to massively expand its presence across South Korea.

Vulcan Post recently spoke with GOPIZZA CEO Jay Lim over a hot slice of pizza to discuss GOPIZZA’s rapid expansion from a single food truck to five countries and his business strategy of using AI to ensure that there are “Pizzas Everywhere.”

I understand you just raised an additional $10 million from Thailand’s CP ALL, the distribution affiliate of CP Group, which owns the 7-Eleven convenience store chain in Thailand. GOPIZZA already plans to open 20 stores in Thailand this year, but recent news also states you intend to grow to 2,000 stores in South Korea and 10,000 globally.

My initial dream when I started up this business in 2016 was to eventually have 10,000 stores globally, but my dream has now turned into a very viable business target! In South Korea, we just started a partnership with the GS25 convenience store chain – and we initially announced a goal of opening 1,000 stores by the end of 2024, but the performance of the first 250 stores that we opened in May has done so well, that GS25 have increased their target to have 2,000 by the end of this year! This means that we should have between 2,200 to 3,000 stores globally by year’s end!

GOPIZZA at a GS25 store

With the CP Group infusion, your total raised funding now stands at US$43 million.

US$43 million, yes, though KRW 60 billion is a more accurate estimate.

You’ve just been travelling around the region for business?

We have five different entities in five different countries, so I will usually visit every market at least once a quarter. Singapore is the most frequent market that I visit, just because it’s a strategic location, I usually go to Thailand or India from Singapore. So I come to Singapore, probably every two months, but usually just for 24 hours to 48 hours, Max.

I also studied at SMU, so Singapore is very familiar to me. In fact, I was just at DBS bank for some admin, and they told me I already had a personal account with them, which I’d forgotten about as it was started 14 years ago!

You have stores in NTUC Fairprice and Cathay Cineplexes in Singapore. But with your partnership with CP Group, there’s some speculation about you going into convenience stores in Singapore as well.

Nothing is confirmed. But you know, CP Group obviously had 7-Eleven Thailand in mind when they invested in us, and we’ve proved our business model with GS25. So I would hope that other 7-Eleven licensors will feel more comfortable to at least test a pilot GOVEN Mini. We know what happens after the pilot results are good, which we experienced in South Korea with GS25.

For Singapore, it’s never going to be as many units as Thailand or South Korea, because they have more than 10,000 stores in each country. But obviously, Singapore is an expensive market to be in and with the labour crisis, labour costs, rental, ingredient costs and inflation, we think partnerships going into convenience stores is a much better strategy to do in Singapore, more so than Thailand, because it’s basically leveraging the retailer’s property and labour cost to deliver customers with a more value for money product.

Vulcan Post’s previous article covered how GOPIZZA is quite flexible with your modular kitchen, and how you can have stores in malls, schools and convenience stores. Do you own or license your business in Singapore?

Of the 29 GOPIZZA stores in Singapore, half are corporate-owned, while most are franchises. We also have a few partners, like NTUC Fairprice, which buys our store solution and operates it inside its retail outlets.

How do you tailor your business to each country, especially as your “prebaked” dough is the most important ingredient of your pizza?

Our main dough factory is in South Korea, and we will export from there for each country’s initial stage. But when we have a large local quantity or a local requirement, like meeting halal certification in Indonesia, we build a local factory. So we currently have dough factories in Indonesia and India alongside the Korea main factory. Thailand and Singapore, use dough imported from Korea, but in Indonesia and India, the dough is locally produced.

What are the local flavours in Singapore?

For local flavours, we already have the chilli crab pizza, which is exclusive to our Changi Airport store. And, of course, we have the ayam taliwang pizza, which is exclusive to the recently opened NTUC FairPrice Finest Ang Mo Kio Block 712.

We recently had a promotion for the Singapore vs South Korean World Cup Qualifiers, including a Singapore Set with the ayam taliwang pizza, chili crab pizza, kecap manis drumlets and sambal fishballs versus a Korean Set with bacon potato pizza, K-bulgogi pizza, cheese topokki and yangnyum drumlets.

What are GOPIZZA’s current plans for Malaysia?

We have a very small footprint in Malaysia with a single store operated by a partner. As you may know, Malaysia’s economy is booming, and now that we are halal-certified in Indonesia, this enables us to export our dough to Malaysia. We are now looking for a master franchise or partners in Malaysia as well. But we have many markets that we have to cover ourselves, so an expansion in Malaysia is in the pipeline, probably in 12 to 18 months.


Business Scalability and Technology

Regarding GOPIZZA’s scalability, I find it very interesting how you are able to offer different solutions for different markets.

The key difference between IT services and our restaurant business is that the restaurant business is much, much less scalable because it’s a ‘heavier’ business. It’s offline and has hardware, humans and property, thus much heavier than an IT service. At the same time, it’s also difficult to maintain consistency across stores, so if you scale up too fast, your consistency breaks, while for an IT business, scalability and consistency are engraved in the DNA of the business itself. In FNB or offline businesses like us, it’s not in the DNA; it’s actually contradictory, so the more scalability you have, the bigger the chance that your consistency will break. 

This is the primary reason why FNB businesses are usually the least sought-after industry for Venture Capital (VC) investments. 

This is why we developed proprietary food tech and tried to make our pizza operation easier and as ‘light’ and simple as possible so that our business resembles an IT service, making it scalable and consistent at the same time. 

We pioneered the ‘store-within-a-store’ concept and now have a 40cm2 store footprint in the GS25 convenience store chain, which has proved how light a store can be. We are now opening 60 GOPIZZA stores a week with GS25, which proves our concept of making our business lighter and more consistent.

So GOPIZZA is not only a restaurant business; you are also a food-tech company that manufactures its own dough and ovens?

We have four different technologies: One is the “parbaked” dough. One is the AI Smart Topping Table, which tracks the progress of the topping and enables the monitoring of the accuracy of the pizza topping placement, layer by layer. We manufacture our ovens, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also delved into robotics. We have an automated pizza line in selected shops that processes the pizza after it’s baked. It slices the pizzas and keeps them in a queue, and the crew then takes the prepared pizza and gives it to the customer. 

GOPIZZA has four core technologies: food ingredients, mechanics, AI, and robotics.

It’s also interesting that you can track ingredients with your AI tech, so you basically get live data about ingredient use from any store, anywhere.

We are in the stage of rolling out our AI Smart Topping Table. The primary goal of the AI Smart Topping Table is first to train new crew as the restaurant business has a high turnover, and training the new crews with the topping takes the most time and labour. So when you have a person quitting, you usually have to have another crewmember training a new replacement – this is why there is a lot of ‘leakage’ regarding labour inefficiency in the fast food business. So, we want to train them with AI. The second part is the topping, which we can measure to ensure every pizza gets the right amount of ingredients.

Jay Lim with GOVEN Mini

GOVEN Mini for convenience stores

Can you speak about the GOVEN Mini, which is now rolling out in GS254 stores in South Korea?

The GOVEN Mini is a compact oven designed by the GOPIZZA Food Tech Lab to maintain the taste and quality of GOPIZZA, even in the limited spaces of GS25 convenience stores. Roughly the size of a coffee machine, it has obtained KC certification in Korea and can bake a frozen GOPIZZA to crispy perfection in about 5 minutes at approximately 220°C. This mini oven is the culmination of our expertise in oven design and production from previous models, combined with our “parbaked” dough technology. It is the most efficient and unique “total pizza solution” in the market, setting us apart from other pizza brands.

How did GOPIZZA come up with the design of the GOVEN Mini?

We needed an oven that could function in spaces as small as 3 square metres(m²), like those in GS25 stores. We tested all existing small ovens but encountered issues such as long cooking times and lack of crispiness, and then realised the necessity of creating a specialised small pizza oven ourselves.

What was the R&D process for GOPIZZA’s GOVEN Mini like?

The R&D process for the GOVEN Mini was incredibly demanding and challenging. Securing a contract with GS25 to open 1,000 stores in almost a six-month timeframe required us to scale up production significantly. Besides the production capacity, another major challenge was obtaining the KC certification in three months, when this process typically takes six to twelve months.

GS25 staff serving GOPIZZA

Integrating AI into every pizza

Could Jay share any key lessons from integrating AI into GOPIZZA?

Many food tech companies have attempted to implement AI solutions. Still, few have successfully integrated them into everyday operations due to high initial costs and the complex environment of busy kitchens.

We’ve been working on integrating our AI Smart Topping Table technology for several years, improving the AI’s learning data and recognition capabilities and are now close to full-scale implementation. From our 450 Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) stores, we have amassed a vast library of pizza images for AI learning, encompassing real-world restaurant operations and variables, making this data highly valuable.

Our AI technology will enable new employees to consistently make perfect pizzas under AI guidance, allow headquarters to track and manage the quality of pizzas made in stores worldwide, and streamline the training for new recipes without the need for extensive in-person instruction.

This comprehensive approach ensures that our AI integration is both practical and revolutionary, positioning GOPIZZA at the forefront of food tech innovation.

All Images: GOPIZZA

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)