Founder, Freshen Food
If you want some homecooked Chinese soup pronto - then you pretty much have to content yourself with a takeaway from a food court or restaurant.
That was the biggest gap in the ready-made soups market that Pamela Phua, whose background is in communications, saw when she worked with clients in the food industry.
So, two years ago, she decided to do something about it. The packaged soup category was all western-recipe dominated, and most of them highly processed to boot.
"I wanted to create a product that was convenient and healthy, following the traditional approach, and not forsake nutrition for convenience," she shares.
So she contacted the people in the industry she'd met to go about this, tapping startup funds by Spring Singapore's Action Community for Entrepreneurship (now privatised).
A year plus of experimentation later, Freshen Food's nutrition-packed Lotus Root & Peanut Chicken Soup (with red date and wolfberry) (for 260gm, S$6.95), and the more basic Carrot & Potato Chicken Soup (onion) (S$5.95) are now available at NTUC FairPrice outlets and other supermarkets in the island.
Freshen Food's soups are the first on the shelves as ready-cooked, complete-with-ingredients soup, and it's made possible because of a manufacturing innovation called Retort, which uses pressurised steam for heat sterilisation, says Ms Phua. Think of Chinese soups made in an industrial-sized pressure cooker.
"Retort was the technology used for making food for the US army so that freshly cooked food can be conserved for over a year, without preservatives," she says, adding that she worked with the Food Innovation and Resource Centre at Singapore Polytechnic.
The most difficult part was the research and development stage because although Ms Phua used her grandmother's recipes, it wasn't easy finding the Retort parameters that emulate the taste of restaurant-quality homecooked soup.
The temperature, timing and pressure parameters all affect the shelf-stability and taste of the final product, she shares.
No MSG was added as well, only salt, as the base of the soup is brewed from bones and dried seafood.
Ms Phua persevered as her gut instinct and official market surveys told her that the market potential is potentially large. The market survey by Euromonitor at the time showed that the packaged soups market was set to register current value growth of 3 per cent to attain S$32 million in 2013.
"This is however largely based on western soups," highlights Ms Phua. She also saw the strong acceptance rate with busy but health-conscious consumers when she took Freshen Food's soups to the recent Asian Food Expo.
"For now the education process is important," she points out. "Consumers are surprised to find that the soups don't have preservatives and MSG and that it can just be reheated."
Ms Phua is already developing a third soup, experimenting with other soup flavours, and also developing the export market for Freshen Food's soups. "It's a product that's conceived for the export market and once consumer demand has stabilised in Singapore, I'm keen to explore the Australian and US markets because of their large Asian communities."
Five years ago, when Dylan Hu was a busy professional working long hours in the finance industry, he started to look into preventive measures because he couldn't afford to get sick.
Fortunately for him, he could fall back on his family, which was in the traditional Chinese medicine business. His uncle, a TCM physician, prescribed herbs for his tired eyes, and he also had access to a host of other herbal recipes, all ready-brewed for him at home.
Not everyone has this easy access to herbal goodness though, Mr Hu realised. And he knew that he was in a good position - armed with a finance degree from the US - to take the business that his grandfather established in 1971 into the modern world.
"The problem with TCM is that people don't know much about the herbs, or they taste bad, or they're time-consuming to cook."
So Mr Hu decided that he could try to present TCM in a form that people could relate to. "My grandfather, a TCM physician, would always come up with a combination of herbs that suits a person's needs in his small TCM store in Geylang," he shares.
So he took some of his grandfather's time-tested and tried "recipes" or prescriptions as a TCM practitioner and produced them under the TruLife brand of nutritional supplements.
It's a brand which Mr Hu created five years ago, under the family's Poli Medical company which his father started more than 40 years ago, to manufacture tonics based on Mr Hu's grandfather's Chinese herbal recipes.
"Each formulation carries a heritage and are tested - with a history that dates back centuries, because of the strong TCM tradition."
Under the TruLife brand, there are single-drink bottles to aid in balancing and immunity, eye health, and herbal detoxification. All are TCM-based except for the collagen enhancement drink.
"All our products are made with raw ingredients, not powders or extracts, boiled down. I experienced this goodness when growing up, and I want to bring the convenience and modernisation of TCM to the general public," he says earnestly. Thankfully, because of the research put into TCM in the last decade, the younger generation is also more accepting of it.
TruLife's Herbal System Detox, for instance, is meant to cleanse the main digestive tract but with green tea, lotus leaf, hawthorn fruit and cassia seed, etc.
"The idea is to stimulate and enhance the body's own process of detoxification rather than starving it or depriving it of nutrition." In Berry EyeHealth, there's a strong dose of wolfberry, chrysanthemum, bilberry - ingredients which have a high concentration of lutein.
The Immunity potion has Lingzhi mushrooms. Each product line is sold in a box of 10 bottles, priced from S$45.80-S$56.60 (for the collagen).
Mr Hu points out that the company is vertically-integrated as they source for, formulate and also manufacture their own products all in Singapore.
"Poli Medical does contract manufacturing in Singapore with two factories in Kallang and Bedok, from basic Chinese food products to pharmaceuticals and health supplements."
With TruLife, Mr Hu says that they're able to work on the company's strengths and also control the quality of its products. "Next year will be a year of innovation for us, as we're working closely with food technologists, nutritionists and also TCM physicians to come up with more herbal-based products," he adds.
It's time to "return to the natural", Mr Hu says, albeit with new machinery and technology. Besides the Singapore market, he hopes to expand TruLife to the Philippines and China as well.
Natural and healthy weight loss
Brigid Ann Loh
Founder, NewScience Laboratories
Meal replacement drinks have just gotten healthier, with one company deciding not to put in any kind of slimming drugs in their formulae but are instead pumping super ingredients into their shakes.
"We decided to go the natural and more healthy route when we came up with Ulti Trim," says Brigid Ann Loh, who heads New Eastern and its wholly owned subsidiary, NewScience Laboratories.
While most women would still list "Need to lose weight" on top of their wish lists, the growing concept now is to lose weight in a healthier manner. It's this approach that NewScience Laboratories has taken with Ulti Trim.
"What we wanted to do was to make a meal replacement that was tasty, but also with good stuff so that you're not depriving your body of nutrients even as you restrict calories," she says.
This is NewScience Laboratories's second food-based supplement product after it launched its collagen drinks about three years ago. Its Korean manufacturer evaluated and tasted some top 20 brands of meal replacements in Asia and the US before formulating Ulti Trim.
Like several entrepreneurs of her generation, Ms Loh is innovating on her family business. New Eastern trades in food and chemical raw materials, giving her a reason to get into the business more than five years ago.
"We were importing many varieties of collagen powder for manufacturers, so we decided to make our own formulations because some of what we tried were just not nice-tasting at all," she relates.
From their first collagen enhancement drink, NewScience Laboratories has since developed collagen powder with carotenoid, and now the company, taking advantage of the good working relationship they have with their Korean manufacturer, has gone into meal replacements.
"They are one of the top manufacturers of powder-based ingredients and they also contract manufactures for many brands of food and nutritional supplements," says Ms Loh.
She notes that the case for meal replacements for weight loss was further strengthened in an oft-cited 2003 study which pooled data from six separate studies of different types of meal replacements and found that the overall weight loss for the 249 people on meal replacements was greater than for the 238 people in the comparison groups who followed low-calorie diets.
Each Ulti Trim sachet is less than 150 calories and has milk/soy protein for muscle development and fibre for healthy bowel function. The other trace antioxidants, nutrients and vitamins include chia seeds (for omega 3), spirulina (to enforce the immune system), riboflavin, folic acid (to aid in the synthesis of DNA), oat fibre (to aid digestion), quinoa and barley (for dietary fibre) and some fruit and vegetable extracts.
"More importantly, we don't put in any slimming drug to aid in weight loss," says Ms Loh. She recommends Ulti Trim for two meal replacements a day but says that it shouldn't be taken as a sole source of nutrition to replace all three meals, and those with medical problems should seek advice before taking any meal replacements and supplements.
"Weight loss should be sustainable and healthy," she adds.
Ulti Trim retails at S$48 a box (contains seven sachets) and is available at Nishino Pharmacy Outlets, Robinsons, John Little, Pan Derma Clinique, Phillip Wain, and other selected TCM and medical clinics.
This article was first published on Jan 3, 2015.
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