Local online food store, Foodmarket, notable for offering local delicacies, turned one this April. Founder-CEO Engku Isa Al-Husam says it’s been a challenging and rewarding 12 months so far. ZIEMAN reports.
FOR Engku Isa Al-Husam, the secret to running a successful food business is to always create something different.
Having spent the last 10 years exporting food products to Thailand, Egypt, the Middle-East and Africa, Husam decided in 2015 that he needed an edge. So he invested RM10,000 and created the online food store, Foodmarket.
A supermarket of sorts specialising in food, it sells ingredients and ready-to-eat stuff but is most notable for its local offerings.
“I wanted to create something different in the e-commerce food world. The last one year, we have helped a lot of SMEs to market their products in Foodmarket, by showing them how to do the right labelling and marketing so that their products look presentable,” says Husam.
Foodmarket, run by Husam Waksa Sdn Bhd, came online in April 2015. Response was good during the first month despite there being no promotional activities. It was word-of-mouth recommendations through the social media that made Foodmarket popular virtually overnight.
They rang in sales worth RM10,000 in the first month.
However, when GST was introduced, sales plunged to zero for two weeks.
But they slowly recovered, and Foodmarket started receiving orders again. The peak was during the MyCyberSale promotion last September organised by the Malaysian Digital Economy Corp (MDeC).
“All our food products are labelled to disclose ingredients, weight and quantity. Those who are keen to join us have to offer something different or something that is not out there.
“Foodmarket has become a new lifestyle and online shopping experience. Not only you get exotic local food like petai, pekasam, belacan, cincalok and so on, you can also get food from UK brands with us,” says the engineering graduate.
According to the CEO, he has invested more than RM50,000 to develop the e-commerce system for Foodmarket. It now has more than 100 types of sambal, 200 imported products and 400 local items, including such popular brands as Adabi, Julie’s Biscuits and Faizah.
“I foresee there will be a lot of challenges. The nature of the business is different, with every food item delivered via courier. So we are dependent on the courier service rates, and most of the products in Foodmarket are quite heavy. “We have had to adjust the delivery charges a few times since we first started,” says the 34-year-old.
“It’s important to design a delivery and shipping system which includes the cost, temperature and speed that fits your product. We have already developed a system where everything is systematic and organised. Of course, sometimes we face some small crisis in our inventory. But with a SOP, our team knows what to do,” says Husam who is assisted by seven workers.
Another challenge Husam faces is their suppliers’ production capacity since small traders make up 90% of Foodmarket’s supply chain.
“Our biggest challenge is to educate the small traders, but it’s not easy,” he says.
“We’ve even had to fork out our own money as their working capital so that we can start working on the orders. This doesn’t happen in the real trading world, where shops and supermarket usually take 30 to 90 days credit term,” he says.
Unlike other businesses, which prefer to give a portion of sales to charity, Husam prefers to teach the kampung folk how to make their food and market it right. So far, Foodmarket has helped more than 100 families, mostly those headed by single mothers producing food like sambal in small quantities.
“We teach them the D-I-Y technique on how to pasteurise their products so that they have a longer shelf-life. We enjoy the process of designing their products, curating their story, script-writing, getting feedback and watching their sales numbers increase. That’s what we do, and we will never stop doing that.
“But, of course, we cannot do this for everyone because we are not a government agency,” he says. Husam is particularly proud of one small business he has assisted.
“We helped a couple to redesign their fried shallots and upgrade the packaging. Today, their product, Bawang Goreng Premium Malay Cook, is one of our best-sellers,” says Husam, adding that it is also a favourite of Tengku Puan Pahang, Tunku Azizah Sultan Iskandar.
It may come as a surprise but the company’s customers include royalty, socialites and high-profile personalities.
“About 90% of our customers are from the urban middle class. But the VVIPs love our products because of the quality and attractive packaging. We just have to make the packaging of our tempoyak, sambal, pekasam and other exotic food more presentable. We have actually created a trend!” he adds.
Husam says Foodmarket will add more unique offerings, as well as be accessible via an app. “I hope government agencies will see Foodmarket as a solution for the SMI producers and take this opportunity to use Foodmarket as the platform. We want our entrepreneurs and products that we have groomed to be the key indicators for our industry.
“Hopefully, the industry will change, and we have more quality and beautiful products with international standard,” he says.
Currently, Foodmarket carries more than 1,000 products, and they export to Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, London, Amsterdam, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE, Oman and a few more countries. All the food products are stored in their office in Wisma Zelan, while a warehouse in Klang Port stores all the export products.
Recently, Husam launched Chendera Kasih.
“Chendera Kasih is aimed at our special customers who have requests but refuse to shop online,” he explains.
“Giving perfume, flowers, cakes, biscuits for birthday or anniversary are outdated. For them, giving exotic food like pekasam and tempoyak is cool. This is the new trend especially among city folks. Our attractive designs and chic graphic target the corporate sector and individuals looking for premium gifts.
“We have already exported Chendera Kasih to Brunei, London, Saudi Arabia and Germany,” says Husam.
“We have also received calls from the corporate side who are interested to invest in us. Give us another year. We would love to maintain it the way it is for now,” says Husam.
“Although I’m an engineering graduate, my job has nothing to do with engineering or technology. I just sell belacan!” he quips.
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