AS an accounting graduate Ciinndey Wong had achieved her career goal of landing a job at one of the Big 4 accounting firms but with a busy work schedule came a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. This led her to become unfit and overweight.
Low self-esteem led to a period of depression before she decided to turn things around by changing her lifestyle.
She began exercising and eating well. During this period, she realised that herbal infusion teas were lacking in this market and so decided to a start a business venture in this.
The result is Rhymba Hills, an herbal infusion tea company which uses mainly local ingredients.
WHAT INITIALLY TRIGGERED YOUR DECISION TO FOCUS ON WELLNESS?
When I started off my career in accounting, I was happy to be in a Big 4 company but I was leading a very stressful life. I became an emotional eater. Basically, I ate to de-stress myself. Lots of fast food, sugary drinks and late night suppers at the mamak took its toll on me. I put on so much weight, and felt horrible. One day, I decided enough is enough.
I didn’t want to look that big and feel so low anymore. So, I embarked on a journey towards wellness.
HOW DID THIS LEAD TO THE CREATION OF YOUR BUSINESS?
When I started watching what I consumed, one of the things I did was stop taking soda drinks. I could have switched to coffee or tea but I’m very sensitive to caffeine so instead, I’d order chamomile tea or peppermint tea, the common herbal infusions you can find here.
After a while though, I got tired of drinking the same thing over and over again, and it made me realise that there was a gap in the market. We have all kinds of teas and coffees but very little choice in terms of herbal infusions. In Malaysia, we have so many plants and ingredients to make great herbal infusions. Why isn’t someone doing something about it? So, I decided to do it.
HOW ARE HERBAL INFUSIONS HEALTHIER THAN TYPICAL MALAYSIAN DRINKS?
Malaysians in general have strong taste buds – they like their food and drinks to be very flavourful. As a result, Malaysian drinks tend to be laden with sugar and artificial flavourings. In contrast, herbal infusions are natural and don’t contain any sugar. Some people may find them to be not strong enough compared to most Malaysian drinks but they’re healthier for you.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HERBAL INFUSIONS AND TEA?
Although herbal infusions are commonly referred to as “tea”, they actually do not contain tea at all. All tea comes from the same family, which is Camellia sinensis. Whether it’s black tea or green tea, they have this ingredient. Herbal infusions, however, don’t contain any element of Camellia sinesis. Chamomile tea, for example, is a herbal infusion made from dried chamomile flowers. It’s not actually a tea.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME RHYMBA HILLS?
Rimba means forest in Malay so Rhymba Hills is a play on that. I wanted to connote something that’s very Malaysian and something that comes from Mother Nature because we only use natural ingredients.
ARE ALL YOUR INGREDIENTS LOCAL?
Not all but most. We source a lot of our ingredients from farmers up North – Kedah, Perak and Penang. We also get Bentong Ginger from Pahang. For cinnamon, we source it from Sri Lanka and turmeric from India because those are really the best sources of those ingredients. But for much of the other ingredients we source locally.
The northern part of Peninsular Malaysia has very fertile soil due to the water from limestone hills so we’re happy to get our ingredients from there. In the process we’re also supporting local farmers which is something we believe in.
HOW DO YOU KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT HERBAL INFUSIONS SINCE YOUR BACKGROUND IS IN ACCOUNTING AND NOT FOOD AND BEVERAGE?
I do a lot of research online, reading about herbal infusions as much as I can. I also travel the world to attend industry conferences and events. For example, I travelled to the US three years ago to attend the world’s biggest tea expo, and again just two years ago to attend the world’s biggest natural food expo.
I’ve also travelled to Europe to attend expos there. These events allow me to learn more about food and beverage trends around the world.
HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THE DIFFERENT FLAVOURS?
I regularly take note of flavours that are not yet available in our local market and see if I can introduce them. In my travels, I seek out popular blends and flavours that are not available in Malaysia and try to see if I can localise them using ingredients that can be found locally.
HOW DO YOU MARKET YOUR PRODUCTS?
We do a mix of offline and online but the latter is becoming increasingly important. We want to be as digital as possible going forward, with social media and e-commerce.
YOU DON’T TAKE TEA OR COFFEE, SO WHAT ELSE DO YOU LIKE TO DRINK BESIDES HERBAL INFUSIONS?
At Chinese coffee shops, I normally order barley kosong (no sugar). At mamak stalls, I’d normally order fruit juice with no added sugar or sometimes I’ll just have plain water.
HOW DO YOU SEE RHYMBA HILLS GROWING IN THE NEXT FIVE TO 10 YEARS?
Growth has been good over the past five years since we started but moving forward, we hope to really penetrate the export market and be known as the Malaysian herbal infusion company. My dream is to give back to society. But in order to do that we need to be successful commercially.
ARE YOU ALREADY DOING SOME CSR WORK?
Yes, we work with the Dignity for Children Foundation, a centre for underprivileged children. We’ve been donating part of our proceeds to Dignity for a few years now because we think they’re doing a good job of helping these children. To me, helping the community isn’t an option but a must. It’s both a duty and a privilege to be in a position to help the community we live in.
AS A BUSY ENTREPRENEUR ARE YOU ABLE TO ACHIEVE WELLNESS DESPITE THE HECTIC LIFESTYLE?
Yes, I lead a healthier lifestyle now. No doubt as an entrepreneur I’m very busy but I do take care to watch what I eat and ensure I get enough sleep. I also go for walks in the park for exercise and to connect with nature.