KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 — When you’re busy with work, be it back-to-back meetings or a looming deadline, our three square meals a day tend to be the first to suffer.
We either skip a meal or two or snatch a quick bite or two at the desk, usually processed foods high in sugar and artificial additives.
What if we could have readily accessible foods — or superfoods, even — and complete meal replacements to stay quick on our toes?
Imagine single-serving liquid meals; yerba mate tea, thought to boost the immune system; or even MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) oil, popular with those on the Keto Diet.
Such is the premise behind Focus Foods, a line of “Superfoods, Liquid Meals and Snacks” founded by entrepreneur and serial investor Benedict Tan.
The University of Melbourne graduate worked in the banking sector for five years before deciding to start his own e-commerce businesses.
Throughout his journey as an entrepreneur, Tan had always maintained an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits, unlike many of his ilk. It wasn’t always easy though.
He recalls, “It’s a classic case of the founder trying to solve his own problem: lunch. Often we find ourselves with a very low reserve of willpower.
"I then realised a lot of people have the same problem. Why not create something healthy, affordable and hyper-convenient?”
It all began with a crowdfunding campaign by an American meal replacement products (MRP) company that appeared on Tan’s Facebook feed earlier this year. It was a sign.
He says, “That really gave me the much needed push as I always thought there was a gap in MRPs, especially in South-east Asia.”
Tan then started searching for MRPs locally and overseas, studying their ingredients, nutrition facts, and even experimented making small batches to test which formula made him feel the best in terms of satiety and taste balanced against the appropriate ratio of all macronutrients and micronutrients.
He was wary, however, that what worked in the US might not find the same level of acceptance in Malaysia: “It’s almost a maxim that people hate changes. Or at least resistant to them. I realised not only am I making healthy meals fast, but I’m making it easier for people to adapt a healthier lifestyle through these sustainable, easy changes you can incorporate into your lifestyle.”
According to Tan, their Liquid Meals are more nutritionally balanced than protein shakes thanks to higher protein, higher carbohydrates, moderate fats and the inclusion of greens and pre-biotics.
Compared to most MRPs, Liquid Meals are purportedly similar in macronutrients but contain fewer artificial sweeteners while being vegan-friendly.
Since launching in July, Focus Foods has seen their sales double every month. While an encouraging sign, Tan remains cautious as it’s early days yet and pays close attention to customer feedback.
Repeat customers, for instance, are tangible proof that the market accepts the intended usage of the products as liquid meals.
He says, “For people who try it the first time, they almost always compare the taste to protein shakes. Most are quite surprised how little sweetness there is in our Liquid Meal. They may take some time to get acquainted to the slightly earthy taste — from grains, brans, etc.”
In terms of usage, Tan notes that the Liquid Meals keep most consumers full for hours, other than those who naturally have high metabolism rates.
The draw here is the healthy ingredient list and balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats), so most customers have come to appreciate both the taste and applications of the product.
As a lean start-up, agility is one of Focus Foods’ main strengths. The ability to test frequently and adapt helps ensure product offerings are always in line with market demands.
One of the clearest examples of this is the decision to change their packaging recently, from neon green to a new colour scheme of yellow, black and white.
Tan says, “In the beginning, the labels were designed such that the website did the selling and most of the talking. After speaking to a few brick-and-mortar retailers, we realised we needed more colours and information on the label itself – to make them more sell-able on the shelves.”
Clearer instructions were also useful. Tan explains, “I wrongly assumed most people have handled a protein shake before and would intuitively know how much water to add.”
As with many new product-based start-ups, the first and preferred distribution channel is selling online. Tan shares, “All sales are currently done online as was intended initially, as we want to be more directly engaged with users. We’re also starting to explore brick-and-mortar retailers so we can have an impact in more people's lives as quickly as possible.”
Aside from more conventional venues such as supermarkets and pharmacies, Tan hopes to distribute Focus Foods products at gyms, co-working spaces and elsewhere. He adds, “We’re still at the stage of finding product-market fit and finding more avenues to expand awareness. That’s probably the biggest challenge as this product is new to most people.”
Any entrepreneur would tell it’s always a continuous learning process, and a new challenge will arise with every problem that is solved. Tan says, “Being a young company, we always find it a tough balance between incorporating too much and too little feedback, i.e. trying to please everyone.”
Clearly enough people are being pleased; dissatisfied consumers tend not to be returning customers.
Learn more about Focus Foods and purchase their products at www.focusfoods.co