Amazin’ Graze is a Malaysian start-up focused on selling healthy snacks and creating a healthy lifestyle around their products. They are growing stunningly fast, clearly showing there’s room for these products in South East Asia.
This is the second start-up we have interviewed in Malaysia and we finally have one founded and run by women. So far we have interviewed just men and although it’s true there are more men in the start-up scene, we don’t want to misrepresent as there are women doing great things out there and here it’s one of those cases.
We interviewed Sabrina, COO and co-founder of Amazin’ Graze, at Impact Hub Kuala Lumpur, the place where they are based for the moment.
Amazin’ Graze sells healthy snacks mainly based on cereals and fruits that can be eaten at any time of the day but are especially suitable for breakfast. Now we know the basics, let’s see what their secrets are to scale their business that fast.
Who is behind Amazin’ Graze?
Amy, Ching and Sabrina are the three brains behind Amazin’ Graze, three Malaysian women in their late twenties and early thirties. With this video you can put faces and voices to these names.
“Amy is the CEO of Amazin’ Graze and holds the strategic part, finance and sales. She was the one that had the idea. She studied law in the US, used to work for the United Nations and is an ex-BCG Malaysia.
Ching is the CMO but works very close with Amy since sales and marketing goes together. She studied in Melbourne and then started her own business, Thimble which she keeps running nowadays, being the official distributor of Voluspa candles in Malasyia and Thailand.
I (Sabrina) am the operations manager at Amazin’ Graze. I manage the production and supply chain of the start-up. I studied actuarial science in the UK and before starting here I worked at Rocket Internet for 4 years.
I helped start Zalora in Malaysia and later I went to Vietnam to set up the whole operations in the country. Then I worked for Easy Taxi, which is part of Rocket Internet too, until I met Ching and Amy.
We all met through mutual friends. Amy and Ching met before thanks to their common passion, healthy eating and organic food.”
Where does the idea come from?
“Amy was the one that had the idea. She is a yoga instructor and grew up in Australia where the healthy lifestyle has a huge presence. There are so many products related to this movement and available everywhere. When she came back to Malaysia she struggled to find them and when she did, the range of products was very limited, was very expensive or it had a lot of sugar, which isn’t healthy at all.”
Amy saw that there was a lack of healthy products in Malaysia and tried to validate her proposition by testing it in a small scale first.
“Amy and Ching started cooking the products at Ching’s home and giving them to friends to try. They really liked them. Their friends were surprised by how good they were so they thought: ok, let’s take this to the next level. In June 2015 the seed was planted.”
How did you scale Amazin’ Graze from friends to the mass market?
At this point, they already knew that their product had potential, but from this to taking it to supermarkets, there’s a big step. How did they do it?
“Amy and Ching rented a pop-up in a mall for three days where they were offering these products. The experiment was a success and they received very positive feedback from customers.
After that, they were clear that the market approved of the product so they thought about scaling it. They needed someone to do it, a very operational oriented person and that’s when a common friend introduced us. I really liked the idea and decided that I wanted to be part of it.
From there, we started the business and kept growing. We are now in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. In Hong Kong we are relatively new, we went there in October 2016.
We produce everything in Malaysia and then ship it to Singapore and Hong Kong. The product gets more expensive but it’s still ok for Singapore and Hong Kong. To Singapore we ship it by truck which is pretty cheap and it takes just two days to go from the production centre to the supermarkets or clients there.
For Hong Kong since it’s a new market we are sending everything by plane but eventually we’ll think about sending it by sea, which has a very reasonable price. It would take a week to get there which is fine given that our products can be 6 months in perfect conditions after production.
I asked Sabrina about the points of sales where it’s possible to buy Amazin’ Graze’s products.
“We have the production centre in Malaysia, which serves as a retail shop as well. We have online stores for all the markets where we operate and we are in major supermarkets. We have hit the corporate world as well. We are at Facebook, Airbnb and Google offices amongst others.
In many companies they are trying to encourage their employees to eat healthy and have a good breakfast. A lot of people in Malaysia have breakfast, but it’s the typical Malaysian breakfast which is oily and fried and definitely not the healthiest option to start the day.”
I was surprised by how fast they had managed to get into supermarkets, a challenging task that usually requires several months, so I asked Sabrina how they managed it.
“Yes, it’s difficult to get into supermarkets. The timeline to place a product there is at least 2 months. It takes a lot of persistence and determination just to get the contacts. Then you need to get in touch with the right person. In each supermarket there are several lines of products and you need to hit the correct manager.
We found it pretty difficult to schedule meetings because they postpone a lot, that’s why you need to be there pushing to get what you want. Then we normally give them the product so that they can try it. Once they do, they like it a lot and they want to sell it.
I’m interested in knowing a little bit more about the numbers behind Amazin’ Graze. Here is what Sabrina told me.
“We didn’t get any external funding. We started with capital from the three of us and fortunately, nowadays the business generates enough cash to keep growing organically.
About the revenues and total sales I can’t disclose any number but you will have an idea if I tell you that our maximum production capacity is 800 packages a day and we sell them in 1-2 days. So we basically sell pretty fast everything we produce.
The team is getting pretty big, we are 20 people now, 13 in Malaysia, 6 in Singapore and 1 in Hong Kong that we have hired recently. Before Amy was handling the operations and travelling there several times a month.”
With such a big growth I had to ask it, how do you promote Amazin’ Graze products?
“The promotion has been totally offline until the end of 2016. Then we started to explore new channels.
We were everywhere at the beginning: pop-ups, markets, everywhere. We gave talks too, where we had the chance to show our clients what we were selling. For the first 6 months we always got the same questions: what is this? How do I eat it? We were educating our customers on how to eat it and its nutritional benefits.
Word of mouth has been the key factor for us. We conducted a survey among our customers and 60% of them come from referrals.”
That’s an impressive number. At this point I asked: what is so special that everyone loves the product?
“It’s the flavour. Moreover, it’s nutritious because we mix so many kinds of cereals and ingredients. You don’t need that much to get full so it’s a very healthy and effective snack.
Something that our customers also value is that we very strictly stick to our roots and we want to keep the products healthy. In Asia, people really like sweet food and therefore they put a lot of sugar everywhere to make the taste better.
But from the beginning we set a threshold of the amount of sugar we were going to use (very little by the way) and once we reach that level, we add different natural things to make the taste better but without sugar.”
Sabrina gave me a package at the end of the interview, so that I could try it, and I must admit that it was delicious!
What will the future bring to Amazin’ Graze?
“We want to grow in the countries in which we are already. There is a lot of potential for the product but our market is still very niche so we realised that we have to bring it to the mass market, to people than don’t know anything about this and make them try it.
We want to get into Thailand and Indonesia as well. Amy was in Thailand a few days ago to do some market research and see if there is space for our products. You just have to walk in the supermarkets and see what’s in the shelves. That’s what the mass market is asking for.
In 5 years we would like to be in all South East Asia. We are thinking about China because some people coming from there that tried our products in Hong Kong, really liked them but we have to be careful with that, if we go to China everything will be a whole different game… for such a huge market we have to prepare in advance how to address it.
But apart from this long term plans, the most urgent priority now is to find another production centre. When we started here, we thought it would be enough for 3 years but we have already reached the maximum capacity in the first year. We are now looking for a place suitable for the next 5 years.
This would help to lower our costs too. Now all our suppliers are from Malaysia but most of the products (nuts, oats…) are coming from the US or Australia. Once we are in the new facility, we can take advantage of the economies of scale by importing the products directly and skipping the intermediaries. This can’t be done now since the minimum quantity to import directly is too high for us and we don’t have enough space in our facilities.”
Something essential in the food industry: Certifications
“Once we move to the new facilities we’ll start the process of getting different certifications.
HALAL will be the first one. Being in a Muslim country this is very important to increase the sales among Malaysian people. This certification guarantees that there isn’t pork in the product and if there is meat, the animal has been killed in a proper way.”
I’m surprised that they need to get the certificate even though there isn’t meat in their products. Sabrina explains a little bit more of how it works and why they need it.
“70% of the country is Muslim and of course not everyone, but there are people that just eat a product if they see the HALAL stamp on it or in the restaurant. I wouldn’t say that’s the majority, but some do it.
It’s even necessary for partnering with other companies. For example, if you want your products to be served in Air Asia’s planes, even if they love your products, they ask for this certification, it’s a policy. So having this certification will open doors to have presence in big companies and brands.
We already know that the process of getting the certification is very tedious. The facility has to be certified as HALAL and our individual suppliers must have the HALAL certification as well.
They’ll check every single ingredient of our product and they’ll check one by one all the suppliers and they must have the HALAL certification, if you miss one, the whole process is gone. In that case we would ask the supplier to get the certification or we would have to change supplier.
That’s why taking this certification is so challenging, in some cases it takes up to a year. Apart from that there are many regulatory checks and if you fail to pass one of them, you have to go through the whole process again.
It’s very strict, especially the one in Malaysia. It’s known to be one of the toughest processes and therefore the rest of the countries recognise it which doesn’t happen with the certifications from other countries. For example, if we get the HALAL certification from Thailand, Malaysia won’t recognise it.
We want to get the HACCP (Hazard analysis and critical control points) certification for food as well. This one is certificating that the production system is appropriate for food and risks are minimised to a safe level.
With this certification we could export to Europe, which is something we have in mind too.”
Any piece of advice for other entrepreneurs?
“My advice would be: get the right team from the very beginning. Don’t rush and wait for the right person. It’s difficult when you are in need of staff but it will be worth it in the mid-long term.
We have been through this experience. We got some interns to work with us but they stay for just 2-3 months and then leave. It takes a lot of our time to teach and show them how everything is done and after a while they leave. That’s why this year I’m planning to hire people that think about staying because otherwise it’s not efficient.
And apart from that, find a person that is good to work with and that will fit into the culture and pace of the company, don’t hire someone because they’re just good. They’ll end up leaving too.”
With this great piece of advice we finished the interview with Sabrina, we got so many new insights about the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry in Malaysia and how critical word of mouth is.
Thanks so much for everything Amazin’ Graze!
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