SIMPANG AMPAT (Penang), July 6 — Have you ever found yourself at your desk (as likely to be in your home as at the office these days) and feeling hungry? You go grab takeaway or order delivery. Your hot meal is ready but an urgent email just appeared in your inbox...
An hour or two later and you’re still stuck with your latest task while your lunch has gone cold, congealed and less than appetising. Sounds familiar?
That’s the situation Penangite Yeo Lee Ching, better known as Lee, often found herself in as a busy event planner, when long hours and inconsistent mealtimes were part of the job.
She recalls, “I slept late, ate tons of junk food especially at midnight. Not a single day did I sleep without my supper first. I did not like to exercise at that time, my only hobby was watching TV. I was sick quite often. My colleague even called me a sick cat!”
Fast forward a few years, and the 32-year-old has cleaned up her act and started Sthrive, a high-protein, ready-to-eat, freeze-dried meal business – purportedly the first of its kind in Malaysia — that she runs with her sister Joe Yeo and colleague Kelly Giam.
Lee explains, “People tend to give up something when they do not find any excitement. I am a believer in variety, especially with food. I knew I would give up if I do not find a way to make my lifestyle sustainable.”
Determined to look for an alternative to her usual deskbound lunch (“high fat and high carb,” she recalls), Lee researched many ready-to-eat concepts on the market such as dehydration, canning and MRE (“Meal, Ready-to-Eat” or a self-contained, field ration typical of the US military).
“None of them met my expectations,” Lee says. “Most of them destroy the nutrients during the food preparation. I then came across the freeze-drying concept. NASA uses this advanced technology to absorb the water at a very low temperature.”
The main draw for the new entrepreneur was how freeze-drying food could potentially preserve 97 per cent of its nutrients, while remaining lightweight and easy to carry around. Lee notes that freeze-drying ensures that almost all microbiological activities in food are destroyed to extend its shelf life.
She adds, “Do you know our meals take at least 36 to 48 hours to freeze-dry? It’s a long process, but it is worth the time as we know our meals will turn out to be real food, with real taste and real convenience for customers who enjoy our foods.”
Currently, Sthrive offers four flavours of freeze-dried meals — Classic Chicken, the aromatic Thai Style Chicken, the mildly tangy Hearty Beef and the Mongolian inspired Gingie Beef. According to Lee, one only needs to add hot water to the meal and allow it to soak for 5-15 minutes and it’s ready to eat.
As an alternative to heavy carbs to go with their high protein meals, Sthrive has also introduced Nood, their all-natural kelp noodles that are vegan, gluten-free and low-carb. The entire product line has a clean and minimalist packaging.
The ready-to-eat and high-protein concepts behind Sthrive’s products are something Lee is deeply passionate about, largely due to her own experiences with poor food choices.
She recalls, ““I was in bad shape. As an event planner, you have to work long hours. Sometimes we ate only after an event and after we ate, we slept! That was when I realised I have to do something to improve my health.”
Adding exercise and improving her dietary intake helped, but Lee soon realised that even when she brought a nutritious meal to the office, she’d get bogged down with work: “Guess what happened to my healthy lunch? Turned all cold. So we want convenience; our meals can be ready in as little as five minutes. No excuse to be non-fit.”
Why high protein though? Lee says, “Protein can keep your blood glucose levels stable, so it may reduce craving for junk food. Protein also helps to repair the muscle cells. The more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism will be, which helps you burn calories while resting.”
If Lee’s enthusiasm seems remarkable, her uncompromising work ethic is even more so. She credits this to tough times growing up: “I come from a single mom family, with three younger sisters. Our dad left us when I was in secondary school, so my family lost financial support.”
After receiving a TAR College scholarship, Lee studied banking and finance in KL while working part time. She says, “Unfortunately, our family finances didn’t get any better so I decided to quit my studies. I returned to Penang and started a full time job to help my family.”
This explains her drive to succeed. But balance is everything, if one wants to be in it for the long haul. If her early years of struggle and making ends meet can be encapsulated with the word “Strive”, then Lee’s later epiphany about health and a more meaningful life is a testament to her desire to “Thrive”.
Which is why the name of her company is so perfect and poignant: Sthrive is the sum of all the hard times Lee and her family have gone through but also their unsentimental, bright-eyed ambitions for a better future.
One can strive and thrive at the same time seems to be the message. Sthrive, Lee hopes, will show everyone how.
Tel: 011 - 5406 6228