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Sunday
Jul232017

Healthy ready meals for diabetics

FOR many people, their careers are pretty straightforward. They go into the profession they trained for. Engineering students will usually go into engineering, medical students become doctors and those who study accountancy become accountants.

But for industrial designer Zas Ishak and his broadcast journalist wife Fiza Hussein, life had an unlikely twist in store for them, career-wise.

Both are self-declared foodies but they never expected to go into the food business. Indeed Zas worked in the design field and Fiza was on TV for some time. Both only seriously got into the food preparation after Fiza’s parents’ diabetes condition got bad.

Initially, their aim was to create diabetes-friendly food. This eventually led them to building a business around it. “To jump into the food and beverage industry is something we never imagined doing,” says Zas. “But we were open to new challenges and this project is very close to our heart. Both of us left our jobs to do this and we’re now focused solely on The Foodster.”

Zas tells Savvy how they went about creating an online diabetes-friendly food service from scratch and what he feels lies ahead for the online food industry in the country.

WHAT WAS THE GENESIS OF THE FOODSTER?

This project began when we decided to document every diabetes-friendly meal that we had prepared for my late parents-in law. Our thinking was to share and inspire others to prepare healthy and tasty meals for their loved ones who had diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that can’t be cured but can be managed through a healthy diet. This ultimately led to The Foodster Diabetic Meal Plan.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME “THE FOODSTER”?

Fiza and I both love food, and we wanted to come up with a name that’s fun, catchy and memorable, as well as something that’s digital savvy. After much brainstorming, we came out with Foodster.

WHAT WERE THE FIRST STEPS YOU TOOK?

At first, we had no clue how to turn our idea into reality. Then we stumbled across an entrepreneurship development programme run by CIMB. From there we were introduced to the MaGIC Accelerator Program, which was very helpful. We underwent four months of intensive mentoring where we learnt about different aspects of running a business — from marketing and sales to production and management.

Such knowledge is crucial to successfully running a business. We didn’t have that knowledge beforehand as neither of us had a business background.

WAS IT TOUGH AT FIRST?

It always is unless you happen to come from a wealthy family. We didn’t have a lot of money to start off with so there was a bit of suffering at first. We had to be very careful about how we spent our money. Shopping and vacations were no longer a priority. We also had to learn to work odd hours. There’s no such thing as a 9-to-5 mentality when you’re an entrepreneur, especially during the early stages of the business.

There were times when we worked until 3 or 4am. You don’t get much rest. You’re always thinking about what your next move will be. So, yes, it was tough but fortunately, we have very supportive friends and family members who encouraged us and kept us motivated.

HOW IMPORTANT IS SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR BUSINESS?

We use social media extensively. It gives us a lot of exposure and best of all, the platforms are free. The beauty of social media is the amount of data that you can get from your followers. This data can be analysed for a better understanding of your target market, which is useful for product development.

Right now, we market mainly through social media but we have plans to develop a mobile app too. We’re not a traditional food company in that sense.

IT’S OBVIOUS THAT YOU’VE PUT CONSIDERABLE THOUGHT INTO THE PACKAGING AND DESIGN OF YOUR FOOD CONTAINERS. WHY INVEST SO MUCH EFFORT INTO THIS?

My background is in design, remember? Packaging and design are really important because they are differentiating factors. Take Apple, for example. It is known for its clean, simple and minimalist packaging, which is so elegant. Because people tend to think of healthy food as being plain, boring and bland, we feel that it’s very important to make our products as appealing as possible.

One way to do that is through packaging that looks good. We also purposely make the packaging a part of the eating experience by providing some facts on diabetes and how to manage it. We use our food service as a method for creating awareness of diabetes.

HOW EXTENSIVE IS YOUR MENU?

Currently we have five different types of lunch boxes, which are available through pre-order or weekly/monthly subscriptions. We have also just launched our top-selling Triple Deck Premium Sandwiches and Cold Pressed Juices.

HOW DO PEOPLE PLACE THEIR ORDERS?

Digitally although at the moment it’s not very sophisticated. They can order through Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, and they pay either via online bank transfer or cash-on-delivery.

ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS MAINLY INDIVIDUALS OR CORPORATES?

We have a lot of individual customers but we also have corporate clients. Jobstreet, Standard Chartered, Bursa Malaysia, Malaysia Green Tech and Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre are some of the companies that order our food when they have events or team building activities. It’s heartening to see some local companies encouraging a healthy diet among their employees.

DO YOU FEEL MALAYSIANS ARE MORE HEALTH CONSCIOUS THESE DAYS?

People today are more aware of what they consume. They pay attention to labels and packaging on food. On our part, as food providers, we try to be as transparent as possible about the ingredients we use and the method of cooking we employ so that customers know exactly what they’re paying for. We choose our ingredients wisely even though sometimes this costs us much more than it should.

HAVE YOU TRIED ORDERING FROM OTHER ONLINE FOOD COMPANIES?

Yes. There are a lot of companies out there that provide food on delivery — in fact, they’re sprouting like mushrooms — from small-scale home businesses to big corporations. The major problem we find with online food providers is the delivery service, which is sometimes slow. Food needs to be delivered fresh but this can be a challenge, especially in the Klang Valley, where there are traffic jams everywhere. It’s a challenge for us too.

WHAT’S THE MAIN INNOVATION YOU’VE INTRODUCED TO THE FOOD BUSINESS HERE?

You could say that we’re using our food business to tackle a major health issue in this country, which is diabetes. As mentioned earlier, both my in-laws had diabetes so we know firsthand how terrible this disease is. We’re not just selling healthy food but we’re also raising awareness of diabetes.

Prevention is always better than cure. I should add that although our food is branded as diabetes-friendly, it’s healthy food for everyone to enjoy, not just for those who have the illness.

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