Warming up to frozen food

MALAYSIANS are blessed with a diverse array of cuisines that are affordable in many places.

Eating out is an essential part of our lifestyles, so much so that some restaurants are open till late or 24 hours a day to cater to hungry bellies at odd hours of the night.

But while the passion for food will never wane, going out for a meal can sometimes become a chore as it may involve some form of journey or one just succumbs to being washed out from the day. Thus, prepared or semi-prepared frozen meals may be the next best way to dine at home.

Frozen appeal

Do not be duped into thinking that such food is not on par with outside fare, because the makers of frozen food claim that their offerings are as good (if not better), and more nutritious to boot.

Using this approach together with other features as its selling advantage, the MyChef brand of ready prepared meals by Flavour Innovation Sdn Bhd has been gaining popularity since it was launched almost a year ago.

“We understand that you can’t prevent Malaysians from eating out, but that’s because it’s most convenient for them since they are so busy. From our market survey, we found that Malay families cook at home five times a week while Chinese and Indians cook two to three times weekly.

“So instead of spending hours cooking, we think it would be a great idea to replace one of those cooking days by using a microwave to cook, and since our meals are already prepared, that will save heaps of time,” said Flavour Innovation chief executive officer Mohd Fairuz Abdullah.

MyChef’s product range consists of 12 different cuisines. Its signature series is inspired by traditional Malay, Nyonya, Western and Asian recipes.

They are based on the recipes of Malaysia’s celebrity chefs, Chef Liza, Chef Florence Tan, Chef Datuk Ismail, Chef Zam, and Masterchef Malaysia’s winner, Chef Ezani Farhana.

On the other hand, Kawan Food Manufacturing Sdn Bhd, a frozen food company that has established itself for almost 40 years, prides itself as the world’s first manufacturer of frozen roti canai for consumers worldwide.

“As much as Malaysians love their roti, you’d be surprised to know that North America and Europe represent the largest export market for us,” said Kawan Food Manufacturing exports division deputy general manager Timothy Tan.

Kawan sells its products in more than 30 countries and export sales make up 60% of its overall turnover while the remaining 40% is local.

Besides roti canai, the company specialises in other confectionery favourites like curry puff pastries, flower rolls, mantou buns, curries and sauces to complement their breads and other side dishes that complement a meal.

MyChef offers complete meals and since its food is mainly low in calories (less than 400 calories per serving), the company likens its products to offerings from international brands like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Lean Cuisine.

“People are becoming more health- conscious and we are catering to their needs by using healthy and fresh ingredients that are low in fat and cholesterol.

“For example, the back of each box has the nutritional content and uses colour coding for nutrients according to contents per 100gm as outlined by the UK’s Food Standard Agency.

“We have given the amount of nutritional components in grammes; this includes fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. Consumers will be able to specifically identify the nutritional benefits of the dish as red indicates a less healthy choice, yellow is ‘ok’ while green is healthy,” explained Mohd Fairuz, who is the former chief executive officer of Kart Foods, another local brand of frozen foods.

Tan is quick to dispel the negative notions about frozen food as he argues that it can be as healthy as fresh food.

“Freezing is a method of preserving food without using preservatives and we don’t use any. For example, frozen vegetables are picked when they are ripe and frozen near the farm to maintain freshness.

“Fresh veggies on the other hand, have to go through a long logistical process before reaching consumers, affecting freshness and quality,” he explained.

Setting the benchmark

It seems that MyChef created a buzz even before its factory was completed (the latter took three months). Mohd Fairuz says that the brand invested in advertising and promotions (A&P), which is paramount to propel the business forward.

“We spent about RM800,000 for A&P and because we aggressively marketed ourselves, the retailers already knew who we were,” said Mohd Fairuz, adding that there are now more than 140 retailers that sell MyChef products.

The company is also active on social media such as Facebook, where it has more than 72,000 “likes” today and garners up to 1,000 new “likes” each day.

Fairuz and his team interact with customers on social media and forums to see what they want and how the business can move forward.

Flavour innovation is stringent when it comes to quality control as all its procurement and processes follow the international food and safety standards as well as the Global Standard of Food Manufacturing.

“We handle a lot of fresh ingredients so it was a little tricky to manage when we started, but we managed to improve our methods and stabilise them after the first two to three months.

“In the factory, our R&D chefs prepare the food while our quality control managers randomly pay visits to monitor them on hygiene, temperature control and overall environment.

“We are constantly working to improve ourselves as we want to be the benchmark of the local food industry in more ways than one,” said Mohd Fairuz.

In future, the company hopes to include food delivery as an extension of its business.

“The UK, the US and Australia have a market for specially delivered healthy meals and we want to introduce that concept to Malaysia first before we venture to those countries,” said Mohd Fairuz.

But such plans will have endure a long process that involves a series of negotiations, deals and decisions.

“Firstly, Malaysians are not 100% open to the idea of having healthy meals delivered to them because they think it might not taste nice and that these meals are expensive. Secondly, and on a more macro scale, we have a few non-tariff barriers to overcome. For example, we are yet able to export meat and poultry products to Europe but we are working to raise awareness of this issue,” said Mohd Fairuz.

He believes that it will take a few more years to overcome these obstacles and the company will relentlessly pursue its goals to be part of a globally competitive food market.

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