KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — The rainbow hues of the steamed buns attract attention, and not just from the little ones. You start guessing: the green must be from pandan, the orangey red from carrots, the pinkish violet from beetroot, perhaps?
No wonder these colourful treats are called “Happiness Buns” — they imbue the curious with a joy that only small children possess, and now their parents can join in too.
The Happiness Buns are the brainchild of 40-year-old Jamie Lim, the founder of Zoey’s Homemade. The single mother, who worked for 10 years as a marketing manager before becoming a first-time entrepreneur, started her business thanks to a real child, her daughter Zoey.
She explains, “I wanted my daughter to eat healthy and nutritional food despite my busy schedule, so I made my own concentrated chicken powder during weekends to add on to the dishes I prepare for her. This powder saved me a lot of time in preparing her daily meals.”
Little Zoey enjoyed her meals so much that Lim decided to try selling the concentrated chicken powder on Facebook. To her surprise, it became an instant bestseller.
Lim saw an opportunity to supplement her income as a single mother and started selling the homemade natural chicken powder on a part-time basis. That lasted a year, before she decided to quit her full-time job and fully dedicate herself to her home-based, online venture.
Today, Zoey’s Homemade offers more than 80 different products, all created with the family and especially children in mind. Lim says, “I insist that all our products must adhere to our 3 ‘No’ Rules: No MSG. No Additives. No Preservatives.”
Case in point: Their signature natural chicken powder which is made using 100 per cent certified organic chicken breasts as its main ingredient. The process of making the powder is time consuming: averaging more than 12 hours per batch.
Lim explains, “After the process of dehydration, one kilogram of the ingredients we use will only come up to 100gm of chicken powder. The weight of the powder is only 10 per cent of the original weight of the ingredients! So, this powder is very concentrated.”
Besides the chicken powder, another kid-friendly favourite is their adorable mini rainbow mantou. Only natural vegetable and plant-based purées and juices are used to make these colourful mantou, such as pumpkin, blue pea flowers, pandan and black sesame seeds.
Rather than carrots, the scarlet hues come from red yeast rice. Instead of beetroot, purple sweet potatoes are used for the vivid violet. (How well did you do with your colour guessing game? Better than me, I hope!)
Lim shares, “We also add extra virgin coconut oil and fresh milk as ingredients for improved nutritional value. I believe that colourful food can attract children’s attention and stimulate their appetites.”
These dainty mini mantou do resemble marshmallows albeit without the sugary connotations. Little surprise that they have become the most popular item among kids.
Popular — but still healthy, Lim observes. She adds, with a chuckle, “I hope that other children can also get to eat our range of natural and healthy food, and become plump and cute like my daughter!”
That’s no empty boast. Little Zoey often appears in her mother’s Facebook posts, perhaps the best advertisement for the natural yet delectable treats such as homemade nuggets, steamed “Cartoon Buns” resembling cute animal characters and even dumplings shaped like goldfish.
Everything homemade does taste better; it is made with more heart.
Things were far from an assured success when Lim began in 2016, however. She recalls participating in weekend bazaars to sell her natural homemade food powders while offering them on Facebook at the same time. It was a period of trial and error, and trying out various strategies to see which stuck.
Lim recalls, “In 2017, I left my full-time job to spend more time with my daughter. Thus I could devote myself to the online business. From the initial chicken powder, we then developed more than 10 kinds of food powders.”
The diversification made sense: if customers, many of them concerned mothers like Lim, purchased the natural chicken powder regularly, perhaps they would enjoy other flavours such as vegetable, beetroot, pumpkin, mushroom and garlic powders.
To further her reach, Lim also opened Zoey’s Homemade Café in Cheras with another friend, also a fellow single mother. She explains, “In selecting our employees, we gave — and I continue to give — priority to the single mother group, hoping to help more mothers in need by gathering strength.”
Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year, and with it the first movement control order (MCO). Lim made the difficult decision to close her café and pivot to a purely online business instead.
“I have also moved to a light industrial shop lot to focus purely on the production and selling of our healthy homemade frozen food. Together with more than 20 diligent and sincere mothers, we produce and develop a variety of ready-to-cook frozen food, noodles and buns, all without MSG, preservatives and additives.”
Rather than bemoan the challenges they faced during the MCO, Lim prefers looking on the bright side: “The MCO was a blessing in disguise as my healthy homemade food business venture levelled up and this has led our business to move at a faster pace.”
Not one to rest on her laurels, the former marketing professional is planning to roll out a loyalty program along with Zoey’s Homemade newly developed website (targeted to go "live" by the end of April).
Lim says, “We have up to 90 per cent of repeat customers. To provide a better online purchase experience and service for them, we will have our new website and a cash rebate reward program to show our appreciation towards our customers.”
To continue scaling up, Lim plans to source for more capital via crowdfunding soon. She explains, “Crowdfunding is also a way to give back to our customers who support us and make them part of us. We are also collaborating with frozen food stores so people at home or at work can buy our products easily via offline stores.”
Even with the aggressive expansion plans — heartening given all the doom and gloom we have become accustomed to hearing during our current pandemic era – Zoey’s Homemade has not lost touch of what made it and continues to make it such a meaningful brand:
It not only represents the love of a mother, but more specifically the sacrifices single mothers make for their children. And that is something worth celebrating.
Web: zoeyhomemade.com [will be live by end of April]