The food world is constantly titillated by all sorts of exciting new concepts and ideas. Things like cronuts, nasi lemak ice cream and dining in the dark were all considered eye-openers when they first hit the scene.
And the thing is, innovation is constant so creative entrepreneurs perpetually have room to come up with the next big thing.
And Malaysia’s next big thing could possibly be The Greenies grab-and-go salad jars. The first of its kind in the country (at the moment, anyway) these easy-on-the-eyes salads build on the clean-eating movement sweeping the nation and are packed in Mason jars, and layered (literally separated into clear layers) with a whole host of healthy ingredients.
The idea behind this novel concept occurred when the brand’s co-founder Kelvin Thong was stuck in gridlock traffic and could feel his belly rumbling.
His wife who was with him in the car, brought out a jar containing a salad she had made earlier. Thong loved it, had a Eureka! moment and roped in cousin Poh Kuang to turn the seeds of an idea into reality.
“We didn’t think of it as a business at first but then we decided to do a bit of research and find out if anyone was already doing this. And we discovered that no one had marketed and sold this concept yet,” said Thong.
Both Thong and Poh have no background in the food industry – Thong is an interior designer and Poh has a degree in life sciences – but the passionate foodies were determined to get their idea off the ground.
And they set about it in a very unconventional way – choosing to dispense the salad jars through vending machines!
Thong and Poh got the machines custom made, designing them to accommodate up to 126 jars at full capacity and ensuring that the salads (which have a life span of five days) are changed every four days.
The machines are currently available at Body Factory Gym & Fitness Centre, C180 Cheras, Ikon Cheras and PJ Trade Centre.
The vending machines differ from traditional iterations in the sense that because of the fragile nature of the glass bottles, the salads do not plop down to the bottom but instead have an innovative design structure that prevents breakage.
“We have a robotic lift in the machine, so it’s like a regular vending machine that sells chips and stuff but instead of dropping it into the collection area, we actually have a lift that goes up to where the salads are, and the coil releases it so it comes down to the area where it is dispensed,” said Poh.
Thong and Poh also thought about their target demographic very carefully and chose to position the vending machines outside gyms, where they could attract health fiends and nutrition buffs. The positioning was also conceptualised to help them gauge what the market was like for their product.
“The reason we targeted gyms instead of malls in the first place is because this is a very, very new business for us. And there’s nothing to refer to at all, so we have to start everything from scratch. If we have the vending machines in a controlled space, it is easier for us to monitor the early stages,” said Thong.
The salads were devised with the help of personal chef Sam Yap (of Your Place or Mine?) who produced eight different recipes like Truffle Mushrooms (RM15), Insalata Di Pasta (RM10), Superfoods (RM15), Nice-oise Salad (RM12), Mortar Pestle Pesto (RM13), Sayur Ala Provence (RM12), Fruit Salad La (RM8) and the Protein Jar (RM12).
All the salads were sent to a lab to have the nutritional content certified and are between 200 to 2,000 calories per 500g serving.
The calorie content is highly dependent on the contents of each jar, with the pasta-heavy Insalata di Pasta clocking in at close to 2,000 calories – the highest calorie count of the lot.
The Truffle Mushrooms, which feature barley, stir-fried mushrooms, Pecorino Romano cheese and truffle oil, has the second highest calorie content in the range at 1,000 calories.
On the other end of the spectrum, the tuna and vegetable medley in the Nice-oise Salad has 300 calories while the fruit-rich Fruit Salad La – which has fruits like jackfruit and pineapple in it – only has 200 calories!
Thong and Poh were also determined to reduce their carbon footprint wherever possible and went all out to source vegetables and other produce locally from farms in Cameron Highlands, only turning to imported products like quinoa and pine nuts when no Malaysian options were available.
While the two actively encourage people to recycle the Mason jars, they don’t have a recycling policy in place at the moment, although there are plans for this in the future.
The salads are clearly a labour of love for the duo and as a result, you’ll discover lots to enjoy in your jar.
Before you eat the salad, you’re meant to first shake it vigorously for 45 seconds so that the dressing evenly coats the salad. We find that when the salad is too tightly packed, the dressing cannot reach the top layers of the salad. Once you are done, just grab a fork and dig in!
The salads are packed with loads of ingredients. Like Superfoods, which features a mixture of black quinoa, broad bean and sunflower seeds, parsley, mint, preserved lemons and extra virgin olive oil. The salad is fresh, well-balanced, light and flavourful.
Other salads like the Protein Jar, are equally intriguing. This particular salad features a motley crew of ingredients and flavours and is composed of chickpeas, roasted chicken, broccoli, eggs, carrots, sweetcorn and pumpkin seeds with a lemon and olive oil dressing.
All the salads are made fresh in a central kitchen in Subang Jaya, which chef Yap supervises. As part of their social responsibility drive, Thong and Poh hire retirees and people with disabilities to cook and assemble the salads, which they say are relatively simple to put together.
“It’s really easy for them to pick it up. We just teach them to layer things in a certain way,” said Poh.
A lot of thought has gone into the portioning and layering of the salads, and there is a very clear division of ingredients, which means you don’t get too much of one thing and too little of another.
“We have our ratio of everything and we have considered the layers in each of the jars and each of the ingredients.
“Each thing is properly thought out; we want to have a proper meal, instead of having too much green or too much meat. We want everything to be balanced,” said Thong, who also added that new recipes are in the works at the moment.
Interestingly, the salad jars are sold between RM8 and RM15 per jar, which is relatively low cost considering the quality of the ingredients (quinoa doesn’t come cheap!) and the fact that they come in snazzy-looking, expensive Mason jars!
Thong and Poh say keeping prices down is a conscious business decision designed to keep the jars within reach of the average consumer.
“We don’t want our food to be too far to reach. We want people to come to our machines and know we’re selling it at a very reasonable price,” said Thong.
Although the salads are brand new in the market, Thong and Poh are keen to incrementally expand their empire, so The Greenies grab-and-go salad jars will soon be available at the KL Gateway Mall in Bangsar South by the end of this year in a kiosk format.
“Actually the whole set-up is meant for vending machines and kiosks. Kiosks will be mostly focused in crowded areas like malls and maybe office buildings if we need it. Others will be more on vending machines,” said Thong.
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