THEIR interest in Tongkat Ali stems from a visit to a trade expo four years ago.
“We passed by this booth that was showcasing natural products. What caught our eyes was the Tongkat Ali. The guy, who was from Pahang, brought this whole root over. It was an eye-opener for us. We were fascinated,” shares Ayu Flores founder Elizabeth Lim.
That fascination led her and her mother, Metina Lee, to do a little more research on the plant and its medicinal properties. And for all their discovery, came a decisive move to start Ayu Flores.
Ayu Flores is a wholesaler of Tongkat Ali- and Kacip Fatimah-based products.
The duo founded the business in hopes of building a platform to promote local herbs and to add to the various existing channels to market and sell Tongkat Ali products.
“We found it such a waste. We have something so good from our own forest and it’s not well marketed. There was under exposure for the Tongkat Ali and that was a good business opportunity for us,” says Lim.
They went ahead and found a supplier who could source the herb for them and started exporting their products to Hong Kong.
Ayu Flores recently joined a trade expo in Guangzhou, China and the locals’ knowledge of Tongkat Ali came as a pleasant surprise.
To grow their market, Lim and Lee started looking into other products they could develop using the herb. Their research and development efforts resulted in products such as their Tongkat Ali chamomile and green teas as well as Kacip Fatimah rose bud teas.
“We came out with the tea ranges to suit different palates. We wanted to cater to more people. The root itself can be a little too bitter for some people so we infused it with naturally sweet things like chamomile,” Lim explains.
With more products in hand, they decided to explore the retail business.
Last November, they opened a small shop in Backspace Alor, Kuala Lumpur to try and capture a fraction of the tourist traffic in the city.
“It’s a good location for us to get the tourist market. And tourists are interested in our local products and some purposely seek out Tongkat Ali products,” she adds.
While footfall along that stretch is still slow at the moment, she expects traffic to pick up in the second half of the year once Backspace Alor is better occupied.
Ayu Flores is also looking to participate in more local exhibitions to increase awareness on the local herb.
One of the challenges to promoting the herb in the local market is cultural barrier.
“It’s a cultural thing. Just like the ginseng is more known among the Chinese, Tongkat Ali is more familiar among the Malays,” Lee points out.
“But it’s a good product with a lot of benefits and we want to promote this as a Malaysian product.”
Internationally, Lee believes the herb has the potential to rival China’s demand for durians. But it will take a lot of market education, she notes.
She adds that there needs to be more accessible published research work on Tongkat Ali to help with educating the market.
The duo also hopes to add more locally available herbs to their range of products, such as stevia, misai kucing and agar wood.
“Our forest is blessed with resources and we need to tell people about it,” says Lee.
They are also looking at the possibility of a second store within the Klang Valley later in the year.
This is not the mother-and-daughter team’s first venture together. They also run a customised gift business, which was started in 2012.
“That is still ongoing but it can be quite seasonal. This [Ayu Flores] will be our main business for now,” says Lim.
And from the looks of it, their partnership could well lead to more growing ventures in the days to come.
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