By Carolyn Hong
Georgina Fernandez Peter and her husband John Peter (pic) were just having fun experimenting with making meat preserves when they suddenly found themselves getting orders from friends.
They sold a few bottles, then a few more and then more, and soon, it became a business which they named Five and Two Foods. Within months, they are now running their home-based food business almost full time with orders coming in steadily.
“If you had asked us earlier, we would not have thought there was a demand for homemade fine foods,” said John. “But clearly, there is.”
Five and Two are among a small but growing group of home-based entrepreneurs in Malaysia who have discovered an untapped niche market for gourmet foods. Malaysia has a history of cottage industries ranging from food catering to tailoring but it’s only recently that gourmet foods have entered the scene to fulfil a taste for premium quality food.
Well-heeled and well-travelled Malaysians are adventurous, health-conscious and seek out unusual products not available in the mass market.
Finding a demand for their homemade meat jam, the Peters expanded their range to six varieties. Having had requests from Muslim friends for halal products, they are now experimenting with beef bacon. Next up is ikan bilis, chicken and mutton meat preserves.
Alzari Joey Mashar also discovered this untapped market when he returned home for good after shuttling to and from Singapore for 13 years for work. By then, he had discovered the joys of homemade peanut butter. He started from scratch, learning from the Internet how to roast peanuts and to make the creamiest peanut butter.
He gave them away to his friends, and, like the Peters, he soon started getting orders. As his friends spread the word on social media, the orders flowed in. He expanded to sugarless peanut butter, and is experimenting with cashew nuts as well as fruit spreads made of grapes and green apples.
“Malaysians can be demanding, and they do appreciate good produce especially those who had traveled a lot and are conscious about health,” he said.
Ng Hui Ming, who was working in London until recently, was testing out her Fatbaby ice-cream business when she was back in Malaysia for a break, and discovered a ready market for her freshly-made produce.
“As I was keen on moving back to Malaysia, I thought I might as well stay start Fatbaby Ice Cream to see where it will take me,” she said. “I think there is a growing appreciation of good food made with quality ingredients. I’ve certainly been quizzed by a few people on what goes into Fatbaby Ice Cream.”
Her range includes favourites like salted caramel to interesting flavours like apple crumble and coconut candy. They are sold in upmarket cafes like Marmalade and the Red Bean Bag.
These home entrepreneurs were pleasantly surprised at the robust demand for their products even though the price is higher and shelf life shorter. The hard part comes next as they try to expand their markets to create a sustainable source of income.
The Peters have begun working to create an online business, while Alzari is talking to stores to have his peanut butter stocked in their homemade section. Hui Ming’s business is about to expand to selling mix-ins such as cookies and sauces so customers can make their own sundaes at home.
If there is a lesson here, it’s that businesses should start small, and social media is vital. All these entrepreneurs credit the social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and word-of-mouth, to help their business take off.
Alzari sums it up when he said: “It’s a big risk but I think success can be there. It’s fulfilling because I’m doing something with passion even though I’m still working the same number of hours.”