PETRONAS Dagangan Bhd, the marketing arm of PETRONAS, launched Café Mesra in July 2022 – an F&B outfit offering reasonably priced handcrafted coffee and nutritious food options.
The no-frills café first debuted at only a few selected Petronas stations. Within the span of a year, Café Mesra has grown to 63 outlets across Peninsular Malaysia.
However, this café is not an ordinary convenience store, as seen from its steady rise in the F&B scene.
What sets Café Mesra apart from its competitors are its assortment of unique offerings, strategic locations, and an unwavering commitment to sustainability – all stemmed from years of meticulous planning.
Planting the seed
Venturing into Malaysia’s already saturated, highly competitive F&B market is no walk in the park, but it didn’t deter Café Mesra from finding the sweet spot in the convenience market.
Three years into his role as chief executive officer of Mesra Retail and Cafe Sdn Bhd, Ian Malcolm Cruddas knew that the future of expansion lies in the food business.
The concept of Café Mesra was conceived before the pandemic, but much like everything else, the lockdowns brought everything to a halt.
Ironically, it was during the much-dreaded lockdowns that Cruddas, a retailer with more than 35 years of experience in various industries, churned out Café Mesra’s tagline – “You had me at coffee” – inspired by the movie Jerry Maguire which was one of the many films he binged on during the pandemic.
“When we began the Café Mesra journey, coffee had always been our focus,” says Cruddas, who points out that their Mesra lattes are what make them stand out.
The signature brew – a harmonious marriage of rich espresso and fresh velvety milk, brimming with notes of raisin, milk chocolate and roasted walnuts – was an instant hit.
Embun, the coffee blend developed by the Café Mesra team, fuses Brazilian, Rwandan and Indonesian Arabica beans – all refined by local roasters in Sabah.
“We didn’t want to go with generic Arabica beans. We wanted something that was bespoke and unique to us and you couldn’t get it anywhere else,” he says of the Mesra latte.
Today, Café Mesra has expanded its coffee menu to include a smorgasbord of espresso-based lattes, frappes and teas.
As the business started growing, the attention turned to food. But instead of going down the road of Japanese and Korean influenced nosh that most convenience food stores serve, Café Mesra went down a different path.
“The question was always: How can we make Café Mesra different?” Cruddas confides.
Cruddas and Mesra Retail and Café Sdn Bhd F&B senior manager Yeap Leng Leng, who specialises in food solutions and development, took up the challenge of developing Café Mesra’s one-of-a-kind offerings.
“Developing products was much harder than we originally thought. It’s about getting the quality and flavour profiles that will appeal to consumers,” says Cruddas, who adds that the team went through numerous iterations of their popular nasi lemak and various bagels for their sumptuous garlic chive bagels.
The journey was arduous and long, but today Café Mesra boasts a slew of delectables that range from freshly baked pastries, cakes and sandwiches to hearty meals branded under two food concepts:
> The first is Fusion, featuring meals like chicken lasagna, fusilli beef bolognese, and, mac and cheese.
> SayHeart – a play on the Malay word sihat which means healthy – on the other hand encompasses delights that range from plant-based options, kombucha and low-glucose ingredients used for the health-conscious.
Making it their own
Cruddas admits that while the process of developing their own food takes longer, his team is finding more ways to effectively create crossovers and increase revenue for both Café Mesra and Kedai Mesra.
Since he took the helm, the Mesra label, which initially only had Mesra bottled water, has grown their sales by 10%.
Today, the Mesra brand has a variety of items, from Mesra hand sanitisers and Mesra facemasks to an assortment of Mesra snacks, chocolates and candies which are also sold at Café Mesra.
Café Mesra’s menu may stand out in terms of its offerings, but sustainability, as Cruddas points out, is still very much a part of the PETRONAS ethos.
The café is pushing the boundaries – introducing compostable, biodegradable cutlery, packaging, and even cups made out of sugarcane pulp.
At their full-retail stores, tabletops are fashioned out of recycled denim, and sturdy yet light chairs are made out of recycled plastic from the ocean.
The brand also takes its environmental footprint into account, locally sourcing produce and products for their items from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and farmers.
“All of our suppliers have to demonstrate that they are sourcing the coffee beans from sustainable sources, which is part of the PETRONAS ecosystem,” says Cruddas.
Crux of convenience
Café Mesra operates on the motto of Making Life Simpler and Better, reflected in its expansion to fit different formats.
Apart from PETRONAS stations, today you’ll find it in standalone shoplots, kiosks, mobile kiosks, and food trailers – a café on wheels for both indoor and outdoor events.
“Mesra is all about convenience, and we want to offer our customers that,” explains Cruddas, who notes that the 63 outlets across states are located in colleges, hospitals, office buildings, as well as LRT and MRT stations.
By the end of the year, Café Mesra will grow to 100 outlets, with 50 more to be added by 2024.
For Cruddas and his team, the expansion isn’t merely a testament to innovation, sustainability, and a passion for delivering an unparalleled experience, but also a big step in redefining the meaning of convenience for its customers.