KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Stuck in the boardroom for yet another long lunch-hour meeting? Your mealtime choices seem to be either the usual fast food delivery of soggy pizzas and greasy fried chicken or skipping lunch entirely. Unless you believe that food matters, that is (and which Malaysian doesn’t?).
Catching on to this need, a rising number of online meal delivery services has sprouted all over the Klang Valley. Food Matters, founded by media executive turned nutritionist Alexandra Prabaharan, stands out from the pack by not only offering healthy dishes for lunch but also at unbelievably affordable prices – as low as RM10 per meal for monthly subscribers.
A Malaysian of mixed French, Indian and Chinese descent, Alexandra grew up in Indonesia and studied in the United States. She recalls, “I studied communications in Pittsburgh and it was only after school that I realised I had a real passion for food. Living in New York City my passion and knowledge for food grew.”
When Alexandra returned to Malaysia, she worked in media and developed a habit of packing her own lunches to work. “There were no options around and especially not healthy ones. When my colleagues saw me doing this, they started asking me to pack lunches for them too and they’d pay me. I realised that I could create a business around healthy food.”
To deepen her knowledge of nutrition, Alexandra took a nutritionist certification with the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. The next step in her journey to build a business came along during... a date.
“I was on a second date with Vishnu — now my husband — and I mentioned my idea to him,” says Alexandra. “He said he would help with setting it up and I could focus on developing recipes for it. I thought he was just saying that to make me like him at the time but he was serious! A year later, in 2012, we launched Lunch2U.my, the first healthy delivery service in KL.”
However that first business didn’t quite take off. Alexandra explains, “Initially it was too new and healthy food was not yet a fad. I had to constantly educate people on how to eat well and it was a struggle to get customers. We also had a very small menu of only eight items and our website was set up in a way that our customers had to make payment every time they ordered which became a hassle.”
After learning these hard-won lessons, Alexandra decided to pivot her business. By reaching out to Massive Collective, a Singaporean marketing and events company, Lunch2U.my was revamped as Food Matters, which now offers a variety of Asian, Western and fusion dishes for lunch, delivered daily in Malaysia and Singapore.
“The key change we made was to change the ordering process into a subscription service. This way customers only have to sign up once. Massive Collective also advised us that we needed a larger menu and to launch an app to make it more convenient for customers to select their meals each day.”
Today, Food Matters has a team of nine employees in Malaysia: three kitchen crew, five delivery men and an operations manager. Inside the kitchen, workers in hairnets and green T-shirts emblazoned with the Food Matters logo move like clockwork: one slices tandoori chicken while another stuffs toasted pita with falafel and garlic mint yoghurt. A third fills the paper lunch boxes with the food – there are rows and rows of them.
The shelves are filled with large cans of tomatoes, packets of couscous, bottles of extra virgin olive oil and organic coconut oil, and all manner of curry powder, spices and nuts. This well-oiled kitchen cranks out 150-170 meals a day on average.
Outside the kitchen is the packing area. Gathered around a long table, the delivery men check and double-check their packages, to ensure they have the right meals for the right addresses. By 11am, they are out the door and off to deliver hot and healthy lunches to customers. According to Alexandra, delivery is usually completed before 1pm.
“We focus on office areas around the Klang Valley such as KLCC, KL Sentral, Mont Kiara, Bangsar, Damansara Heights, Bandar Utama, Mutiara Damansara and Damansara Perdana. Most of our customers are office workers and they find out about us through word of mouth.”
Alexandra says that Food Matters differs from other online meal delivery businesses thanks to their subscription model. “We keep our prices very affordable. If a subscriber signs up for the 20 meals a month plan, each meal is only RM10 with delivery included. In our current economic climate this is definitely something that makes us stand out as you can hardly able to get a meal for this price any more.”
Currently Food Matters has 40 different meals on its menu that are rotated with six options available daily. Alexandra intends to add 10 more new meals, including vegetarian and fish dishes by the end of the month. Dishes such as a healthy Hainanese chicken rice (brown rice is used and the chicken is oven-baked), coconut curry chicken tenders with salad, and spiced ratatouille with quinoa have Food Matters subscribers clamouring for more.
Alexandra adds, “I will cook at home, post on Instagram and get feedback from my followers and customers. They’ll see something they like and leave a comment like ‘Hey, could you add that to your menu?’ That’s how I know what new dishes to introduce.”
Healthy eating, she adds, is just making smarter choices for a more balanced lifestyle. “You don’t need to completely overturn your diet and only eat salads. I believe in balance and eating in moderation, not in diets or trends. Start small by incorporating one healthy meal a day into your diet. You’ll start feeling better and then you’ll make more changes.”
Crave and Malay Mail Online readers may use the promo code NEWYRNEWU to enjoy 10 per cent off their first month’s Food Matters subscription at www.foodmatters.me