An online platform has made hard-to-get cottage food easily available, writes Balqis Lim
MALAYSIANS are blessed with an abundance of food and village delicacies such as the different types of sambal, acar, salted fish, keropok lekor, cencaluk, belacan and budu.
Other than what the womenfolk will make at home, sourcing these food items at the marketplace can sometimes be difficult as most of these are made by small family-run businesses.
They often face difficulty expanding their businesses and may even cease operating due to limited marketing resources. These include less attractive packaging or the fact that the owners do not want to move out of their comfort zone to explore wider opportunities. This in turn, leads to them failing to attract customers and retailers in marketing their products.
This should not happen as a lot of the local products, especially food items, are in demand not only in Malaysia but also overseas.
Well, help is at hand.
Entrepreneur Engku Isa Al-Husam, better known as Engku Husam, has set up an online foodmart to sell local cottage food products.
Operating under Husam Waksa Sdn Bhd, he calls his venture FoodMarket.
The 36-year-old started his business venture with exporting food products.
He gets invited to exhibitions and events where many local products are sold.
“I always buy these food items but whenever I asked the sellers where I can get more of the products, they are always not easily available,” says Engku Husam.
“This means I have to either go direct to the source, all the way to Pahang, for example, if I want to buy sambal hitam, or to get someone there to buy for me,” he says.
FoodMarket aims to gather all the local food products on one platform for easy access. “The best and affordable way to do this is online,” says Engku Husam.
BETTER PRODUCT VISIBILITY
Besides giving a platform to the cottage industry to place their products, FoodMarket also aims to improve their marketing strategies by prioritising premium packaging to change the public’s perception on local products.
FoodMarket was launched on Jan 1, 2015, and its products have been well received not only by the public but also Malaysians living in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UK, Amsterdam and Hungary.
FOOD ON DEMAND
The most sought-after items are all related to ethnic and village food such as perkasam (fermented fish), budu (fermented fish sauce), sambal hitam and tempoyak (fermented durian). All these products are hard to find in the cities, especially in Kuala Lumpur.
FoodMarket managing director Anas Atarek Kamil says the team went all over the country to search for these unique and tasty food that are a speciality in their respective area.
“When we first started our e-commerce business, FoodMarket carried imported products but after two years, the demand veered towards local products such as sambal. Even our best sellers are all local products,” he says.
“So now, we focus only on local products. FoodMarket sells over 200 types of food items,” says Anas.
What’s interesting about an online platform like FoodMarket is that it not only brings back nostalgia to those who crave these hard-to-get products food but it also gives a sense of excitement because these are now easily available. It also helps improve the quality of life of the villagers and the cottage food industry.
Anas says word-of-mouth helps FoodMarket get most of its customers.
Social media also plays a part.
“People are spending a lot of time on social media and placing advertisements there helps us gain more followers in a short time,” says Anas.
Every business has its ups and downs, and it’s the same for FoodMarket.
With most of their customers being 30 years old and above, this age group is not familiar with online shopping, claims Engku Husam.
“Some of our customers have had to ask their children to help them with online orders,” says Engku Husam.
Some even go to the FoodMarket office just to get the products, he adds. “As demand grows and more people get to know about FoodMarket, we have listed more cottage products on our platform, including frozen food,” he says.
However, as frozen food items are harder to deliver, FoodMarket has also opened a physical shop for those wanting to buy the products. Located at Dataran Dwitasik, Bandar Sri Permaisuri in Kuala Lumpur, the shop has been operating since October last year.
EDUCATING SMALL BUSINESSES
FoodMarket aims to help as many local entrepreneurs as possible, including educating villagers on food packaging.
“I feel sad when a good product cannot be marketed because of its packaging and its short shelf life,” says Engku Husam.
To overcome this problem, he holds classes for villagers, teaching them how to prolong the shelf life of their products,” he says.
“We also assist those who can’t afford to improve and modernise their packaging.”
One of FoodMarket’s bestsellers, fried shallots (bawang goreng) were among the products improved by the company.
Now it is sold in upscale supermarkets, even in the Saudi Arabia and the UK.
For his efforts, Engku Husam was presented with the Prime Minister Award by Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2015 under the Social Entrepreneur category by the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).
In March, the company will open its second branch in Denai Alam, Shah Alam.
FoodMarket is also in the midst of revamping its website and add more items to the list.
As online shopping is becoming the norm, FoodMarket will also launch its mobile app to make the process easier.
“We aim to launch the app in April this year," says Anas.
For more details, go to www.foodmarket.com.my