Now you don’t have to look for healthy food, it will come and find you.
In a country rated as Asia’s most obese, providing lower calorie and more healthy food is surely a viable business venture. That’s the idea behind a slew of freshly-minted, healthy food delivery services in the Klang Valley.
Last August alone, four such businesses started operating online, targeting urban folks with hectic schedules who would like to improve their workday lunch options especially.
These are but a part of the selection out there. With food delivery noted as a potential growth industry this year, more players can be expected in the near future.
How it all started
The Lean Canteen was born when gym enthusiasts, Nur Aina Abdul Ghani and her business partner found out that their body-conscious friends couldn’t cut lean figures even after months of rigorous workouts. The problem, they realised, lies in their eating habits.
“Their diet was bad. They would work out but eat terribly, and when we asked why, they said that it was difficult to find healthy food,” said Aina.
That’s when Aina, who had lost 20kg on a healthy diet, decided to start The Lean Canteen to deliver healthy food to consumers in the Klang Valley.
It was such personal stories that had inspired most of the healthy food providores: their personal struggles, and that of their friends and acquaintances, to find healthy food around where they live and work.
Edeareena Nor persuaded her chef friend Allison Xavier to start The Rebellious Chickpea. “She’s always coming up with recipes and they are not only healthy, but delicious as well. I thought that we could work something out, since I also own a gym and know many clients who would appreciate the healthy food she prepares,” said Edeareena of Allison who has a culinary arts background and has worked for four years in restaurants in Britain.
The Naked Lunch Box’s Cheryl Ho was not interested in cooking before she started the business. “I just preferred to order food online,” said the 26-year-old Psychology graduate whose decision to go into the food business surprised her parents. She saw a niche in the market and went for it – the rest, as we all know now, can be learnt on the internet.
Food science graduate Elaine Ho decided to combine her passion for cooking and healthy eating into a business she can manage from home and converted her food blog Chopstick Diner into a healthy food delivery website.
All the outfits are independent start-ups – lone operators or partnerships with small capital investments, some as low as RM500. Many are first timers with no F&B experience, either starting off from home or rented premises in less prime locations.
Starting the business seems easy: Get a license from Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia, set up a Facebook or Instagram account, get the message out there, stock up, cook, and deliver.
More important than the physical address is the virtual presence: most of the businesses depend on social media sites to promote their services, and use instant messaging systems such as WhatsApp, SMS and email to take daily or weekly orders.
“Social media is very affordable – it is free, in fact. More pertinently, it is the platform that reaches our target group of young adults who prefer to do things via social media,” said Edeareena.
The Rebellious Chickpea hopes to take it a step further with a mobile application.
“Mobile apps are easier to handle and is the in thing now. Who looks at websites nowadays, anyway?”
If you are old school and prefer to maintain professionalism via a website, you don’t even have to pay to create a semi-professional site since almost anyone could do it themselves nowadays. Or like Elaine Ho, get a techie friend to help.
Keeping it healthy
The types of healthy food on delivery range from the simple, based on a menu that avoids calorific food, to those that cater to more specific dietary requirements, such as an organic and macrobiotic diet, to a raw and wholefood diet.
Chopstick Diner specialises in delivering salad lunches. Elaine Ho believes in the simple philosophy of just “eating the vegetables your mother told you to.”
“I am not a fan of counting calories and prefer to control the portion size,” said Ho. A natural cook, she does her mathematics by simply eye-balling the portion size and her clients would tell you that her meals are filling and most satisfying.
On offer are five types of fresh salads, some combined with meat, such as caesar salad with grilled chicken or smoked salmon, all served with freshly made dressings.
The Lean Canteen, on the other hand, likes to count calories and nutrient values.
“We hired a nutritionist who helped come up with the nutritional value for each meal, which we indicate on each box,” said Aina.
The Naked Lunch Box is watching calories too but Cheryl Ho does it by referring to everyone’s go-to nutritionist – the Internet.
“I do tell my customers that the numbers are estimates,” she said.
In fact, the internet is also where she finds all the recipes for her menu, which changes every month. She prepares vegan sandwiches, salads and even includes a paleo lunch plate. Her dishes often times don’t include meat or animal by-products, although Ho gives her clients the option to add chicken at an additional charge.
“I don’t even use cheese. Instead, I make my own version with nuts and garlic,” said Ho, who likes to experiment with new recipes.
The ultimate in healthy food is offered by Woods Macrobiotics. Started in 1993, founder June Ka Lim is a pioneer in the field of macrobiotics and healing foods, and a strong proponent of eating organic food. After selling off her restaurant, she is focusing on her classes and food delivery services offering set menu packages and obento boxes.
“We use the purest ingredients in our cooking. We don’t count calories but cook according to the energy of the food to bring out the best health benefits in food,” said Lim, who takes the holistic approach in preparing the meals.
“Our daily menu varies with brown rice as our centre stabilising energy food. In the box, there is a grain dish, a soup dish, a protein dish, a vegetable dish, a seaweed and bean dish and pickles,” Lim explained.
“We use the ‘5311’ guideline to serve our food, which means each dish contains 50% whole grain cereals, 30% vegetables (leafy, root and round vegetables), 10% seeds and nuts, 10% beans and seaweed. This combination creates the most balanced nutrients a body needs.”
As for Delicious Detox Delivery’s Elke Wollschon, she believes that “using everything that god gave us” makes for a perfect, balanced meal. DDD specialises in dairy- and gluten-free raw, organic, and vegan meals, and Wollschon and her business partner Carina Lipold believe that this back-to-nature eating is what people should adopt.
“Most, if not all, of our products are organic, so they are slightly more expensive. It’s funny how people don’t mind buying expensive cars but when it comes to food, they are hesitant to pay a little bit more,” said Wollschon.
She hopes that people would realise that what they invest for their body today will reduce, if not eliminate, the cost for their healthcare in the future.
Getting it to you – fresh
One of the biggest challenges faced by the online food delivery services is getting the food to their clients on time, and fresh.
The Lean Canteen tackles this by serving mostly cooked meals, in a vacuum sealed bag which can be refrigerated for up to a week.
Chopstick Diner and Rebellious Chickpea keep it fresh by shopping for ingredients only the night before, or on the same morning. Their business day starts at around 5.30am which includes going to the wet market to buy fresh produce. Once they return to their kitchens, they prep, cook and pack the food.
The Rebellious Chickpea started off delivering the food themselves but after business boomed from 30 to 100 orders a day, they decided to use freelance riders; this is also the option chosen by Chopstick Diner.
A viable business?
With orders coming in daily, the one element that these business providers didn’t expect was the quick, upward trajectory of their sales volume.
When Edeareena, Cheryl Ho, Elaine Ho and Wollschon started their business, the overwhelming demand took them by surprise and immediately changed their outlook of the business as something to dip their feet into to one of a steady business with profitable outcomes.
“The numbers just kept growing. We started with just 50 to 60 orders on our first week of business last August, and now we cater to almost 400 orders a week,” said Aina.
The businesswomen are struggling to meet demands, solely because of their lack of manpower, but they are working on creating a bigger team to keep the momentum going.
Seeing the profit coming in as well as the potential for expansion, Aina quit her job as a financial analyst to focus on The Lean Canteen.
“We are looking to set up a physical outlet, but that is still in the pipeline. Right now, we’re focusing on growing the online business as far as we can. The sky is the limit,” said Aina.