KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — How often have you reached for a snack when hunger pangs strike during mid-afternoon in the office? Snacking between meals is often an afterthought especially for busy people who just grab whatever they can find.
Usually, it’s a snack purchased from the nearest convenience store or even the petrol station. Most times, the packaged snacks are essentially junk food filled with sugar, food dye, refined starch, salt and devoid of any nutrition. That mindless snacking to fill that growling tummy often can lead to overeating or destroying your appetite for main meals.
Australian Amy Zheng, 31, saw all this happening around her, as she worked in her demanding job at The Boston Consulting Group — people getting sick, putting on weight and generally not being healthy. “One of the issues I have in Malaysia is the difficulty in finding healthy food,” she said.
It struck Amy that there was a gap in the market for healthy snacks produced locally and sold at more wallet-friendly prices. Even though shops were importing nutritious nibbles from overseas, their high prices made them inaccessible to the general public. As Amy emphasises, “If you can’t afford it and you don’t understand what eating healthy is all about, then you don’t eat healthy.”
In April, Amy quit her demanding job after four years. She had came over to Malaysia after a stint with the United Nations and the World Bank in the US, as she wanted to explore Asia. This led to the birth of Amazin’ Graze, a start-up with Ching Yi, 27, from Malaysia.
The duo had connected through mutual friends and their goal to deliver good-for-you bites had cemented their partnership. As Ching Yi explains, “We want to be a healthy food brand that gives access to Malaysians or South-east Asia to eat healthy treats, which are affordable.” Ching Yi also runs her own company, which distributes luxury candles and beauty brands to hotels and spas.
Since May, Amazin’ Graze has gradually unveiled their product line of granolas, nut mixes and trail mixes. It’s been available online and in small batches at Organica Lifestyle in Bangsar to test out the market’s reaction. Their big physical debut was in August when they participated at the Seek & Keep market in Bangsar Shopping Centre.
For their granola range, pick from flavours like blueberry goji coconut, salted gula Melaka, gingerbread, and hazelnut blackforest. You can also select items like their coconut curry lime nut mix, which has a flavour akin to kam heong, a local flavour we often associate with dishes found in the dai chows and their rosemary pepita crisp.
The interesting flavours heighten your edible experience, making it easier to stomach the good-for-you combinations. Their trail mixes, as Amy explains, is the best combination of fruits and nuts. It comes in two variants: berry-licious with a combination of walnuts, roasted almonds, pepitas, mulberries, cranberries and raisins, and the Turkish bliss with a combination of dried apricots, figs, golden sultanas, cashews, sunflower seeds and pistachios. Both variants were well received by the market goers.
Most healthy snacks tend to look at taste on a secondary level. The duo emphasise that they don’t believe in sacrificing taste, as they have observed how Malaysians turn up their noses at bland food even though it’s good for them.
It’s a trait that is opposite of the Australians where their priority is health versus taste. “We notice that even though it’s healthy but not tasty, no one will buy it. People’s palates are very picky here,” said Amy.
There’s also a slant for local flavours with the usage of gula Melaka, pandan, curry leaf and goji berries. “As we’re a local brand, we want to stick quite true to that because it’s all about getting ingredients that you can find locally that is fresh and value for money, like how goji berries is a very Chinese traditional ingredient you use in soups, but now we put it in our granolas. The flavours that we do is kinda just to entice the Malaysians and to adapt to the local palate,” said Ching Yi.
The duo also made a conscious choice to label their brand as an all natural one with no preservatives. “We did the research and we basically could not find any concluding evidence that organic food is better for you nutrient-wise. If we go organic, we can’t prove it’s better for you but we will have to charge you high prices for it. It’s not compatible with our vision which is to make healthy affordable snacks so we have to consciously say, let’s not market ourselves as organic. We want to be practical,” explained Amy.
Both ladies work well together, sparring with each other to be mindful that their products must be healthy but delicious. Amy who is vegetarian grew up in a environment where people would always be pursuing a healthy lifestyle by running and eating good-for-you food.
She’s the one advising, which item like pumpkin seeds will provide the necessary protein elements much needed by vegetarians. Ching Yi’s influences stem from her family who love to eat and a mother who is always baking. “I grew up in the environment where we love to eat interesting flavours and just trying out new stuff.”
This October, Amazin’ Graze embarks on another step in their journey as they will be opening their central kitchen and a retail space at D7, Sentul, right next to the Three Little Birds cafe. “The retail store is not for heavy foot traffic but for people to just identify our look and to have a feel of what our brand is,” explained Ching Yi.
Lofty ambitions for Amazin’ Graze also include conquering not only the local market for healthy snacks but a wider reach around Southeast Asia. “We want to be like, when you think of snacks which are healthy, you think of our brand,” explained Amy. Every two to three months, Amazin’ Graze also plan to introduce new flavours to their existing product line to keep people’s interest stimulated.
Plans are also underway to introduce healthy egg-less and butter-less cookies that will target children and even adults to pair with coffee. “We want to take things people normally eat and make it healthy,” said Amy.
Currently two variants are being tested, which uses their homemade nut butters and sweeteners like maple syrup, dates or honey. Keeping in mind that people often grab snacks-on-the-go, they also hope to introduce granola bars in the near future.
In a bigger picture, Amazin’ Graze also hopes to their expand offerings to include nut milks, nut butters, and yoghurts. One market segment they believe will have great potential overseas, will be dried fruits and vegetables, all grown locally.
“The dried fruits in the supermarket are usually coated with lots and lots of sugar. So we’re looking at how to do dried fruits and vegetables like kale without adding any sugar,” said Amy. They hope to work with small farmers to offer local variants, generally unknown to those outside of Malaysia, since it will be a unique proposition to the overseas market.
Like how they work together, even their name was a collaborative effort. Amy first came up with “graze”, a common term used by Australians to refer to snacking, which she personally enjoys doing.
“I don’t like to have main meals but I like to snack. So the art of snacking for me is grazing.” Ching Yi’s input was “amazing”, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the popular song Amazing Grace, and with some help from her boyfriend, they dropped the “g” and replaced it with an apostrophe to give it a fun feel.