A ‘Yan’ to be the best

  • Focus
  • Monday, 21 Nov 2016

Ng showing the dried, ready-to-drink and concentrated bird’s nest products.

Bird’s nest is a hot commodity with prices continuing to rise in tandem with demand, especially from China. Local supplier Alpha Outlook, which turns out just 600kg annually, says its Yan Society products stand out from the competition because of its stringent QC and top-notch quality. MEK ZHIN reports.

DESPITE being a fairly well-known delicacy in this part of the world and an age-old industry, bird’s nest remains a fairly hazy subject.

Most people don’t know much about it — except perhaps how to prepare it.

Ng Lee Chin, director of Alpha Outlook, says people mostly talk about its purported benefits for the skin.

“This just scratches the surface. There are many more benefits to it than people know or realise, with research backing this,” she says, explaining that it helps improve immunity, aid digestion and relieves coughing and asthma.

Processing birds nest is a labour-intensive job.
Processing bird’s nest is a labour-intensive job.

“We are quite transparent and upfront about what is in our products, so people can rest assured that they are not consuming what they shouldn’t be,” she adds, referring to scandals involving unscrupulous businesses bleaching the nests and so on.

Did you know that the global bird’s nest industry is estimated at US$5bil annually, and Malaysia is second only to Indonesia as an exporter?

Locally, some 350 metric tonnes of edible bird’s nest is produced every year, with about a third of it exported in edible and raw forms.

A really bad case of haze last year reportedly reduced Indonesia’s production capabilities drastically.

Demand, though, continues to grow, particularly in China. Datuk George Kee, president of the Association of Selangor Swiftlet Operators, noted earlier this year that the price of 1kg of processed bird’s nest had risen from RM2,800-RM3,000 in January 2015 to RM7,000-RM8,000 a few months late in September.

Alpha Outlook offers a variety of consumer-ready products including ready-to-drink concoctions, concentrates and dried bird’s nest under the Yan Society brand name.

As a company, Alpha Outlook will only turn two soon, but it is backed by some 20 years of industry experience and insight.

After cleaning, the nests are pressed into moulds while still damp before they being dried.
After cleaning, the nests are pressed into moulds while still damp before they being dried.

“You can say it’s a family business. My sister-in-law’s brother went into swiftlet farming sometime in the 90s. He invited my sister-in-law and others to invest in it, and business has been good.

“In fact, some of our raw bird’s nest are supplied by them. They have been forthcoming with expert insights that have helped the business,” says Ng.

She stresses that it is belief in the product that drives the company.

“It’s a business we are confident in, and we believe we can differentiate ourselves. The product is a winner from the outset, provided we can offer a solution to counter the time-consuming process of preparing it for consumption. The answer to this is ready-to-drink products and concentrates,” Ng says.

These are not exactly groundbreaking ideas in this competitive business, but Alpha Outlook being entirely open about its processes is.

On Yan Society’s website and social media accounts, you’d find most of the information needed to understand the essentials of the products, from the processes to what the company stands for.

Yan Society has obtained the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP), the ISO 22000 Food Safety Management System and, recently, the halal certification.

“We want to cater to all segments of Malaysian society. The certifications assure consumers. Our target right now is the local market, particularly the Malay segment. It has been easy to convince them to accept bird’s nest, largely because of the benefits,” she says.

A blower is used to air-dry the nests. – SAMUEL ONG/TheStar
A blower is used to air-dry the nests. – SAMUEL ONG/TheStar

According to Ng, their customers appreciate the quality of the company’s products, the fact that they contain less sugar, as well as their “cooked egg white” aroma and taste.

“For me, it’s really simple. Quality ingredients, coupled with stringent processing procedures, make for quality products,” she says.

Ng reveals that the company engages a renowned professor in food technology from a Taiwanese university to provide them with scientific know-how. She says her company’s bird’s nest goes through nine different steps.

Among other things, they sort, wash and remove large impurities. Then workers use large tweezers to remove large feathers from the nests, under running water. Next, smaller tweezers are used to pick out the hard filaments that sometimes coat the nests.

The result is a pure white substance that is then moulded to achieve that perfect chip-looking shape.

“We do not mix different batches together. This allows us to trace our products better, enhancing quality control. The tasks are all done by hand. It’s not only labour-intensive but can be quite tedious,” reveals Ng.

Production capacity is currently at about 50kg a month, with the company employing about 25 workers on a five-day work week.

Ng says they only hire local female workers and try to create a conducive working environment. This includes setting up their facility close to their workers’ homes and only hiring those with good eyesight to minimise the use of magnifying lenses which can lead to health problems.

Yan Society’s aim is to be a leading supplier of premium bird’s nest in the country by delivering maximum value to clients.

Right now, their products are available both to end-users and companies through online orders or direct calls.

“In terms of the export market, we are looking into getting a licence to export directly to China. We are also exploring the Japanese, Korean, Australian and Taiwanese markets,” says Ng.

“Traditionally, bird’s nest is prepared as a sweet dessert, but we see it being used in other types of cooking too. We hope to have more collaborations in future to enable us to realise the many possibilities of this product,” concludes Ng.

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