Franchising freshness: Malaysian organic and halal baby food brand sets sights on regional expansion
The brand’s products consists mostly of purees and yoghurts made from fruits and vegetables, packaged in clear pouches with screw-cap tops for convenient consumption for children aged six to 12 months.
It also carries similarly packaged products for adults, and is developing food for children from one to four years old.
Owner Yap Chiew Ann started the business after she saw a gap in the market for baby food that was not only organic and halal-certified, but also freshly made.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia, she said: "After having my son, I started making my own food for him as I didn't trust that what was available in stores was nutritious enough, and there was also no way to tell how long those products had been there.
"It's important that every mouthful children eat is packed with nutrients, especially for picky eaters. Many baby food products contain, say, 90% grains and 10% fruits and vegetables.
“For me, it's the other way around. I also chose a see-through pouch so customers can see the actual product and know what they are getting.”
Limitations of freshness
The brand sources ingredients mostly from local organic farms, but gets certain ingredients such as apples from Australia and pears from South Korea when they are in season.
Yap said that meant limited production numbers, as she makes it a point not to keep anything overnight. Customers order the products via the brand's website a day in advance, and the orders are prepared the next morning and delivered in the afternoon.
The company has also opened its own café in Kuala Lumpur where it is based; its products are served as dine-in menu items, and customers can also get the pouches they see on the website.
Yap said; "We don't make huge batches or keep anything overnight, so once they are sold out, customers who have missed out will just have to try again the next day.
"We try to get most of our ingredients locally, as that maximises the freshness of our products. We purchase them on a weekly basis, and we don't have a year-round selection as what we can offer really depends on what's in season."
The products are good for 10 days in the refrigerator and a month in the freezer, and to ensure they are always sold as fresh as possible, SquEEEze Me Baby has decided not to have its products distributed in supermarkets or speciality stores.
The company currently delivers in KL, as well as to Penang and Johor using cold-chain distribution.
Certification and perception
SquEEEze Me Baby is also intent on targeting the halal market, taking advantage of its location in a region where the demand for halal food is high but the supply of halal-certified baby food is low.
Yap said, "We are located in a region where there is a significant halal market but there have been very few, if any, halal baby food brands.
“We already have an advantage because Malaysia is known for having some of the strictest halal certification standards in the world, and I think parents in countries like Singapore and Indonesia will be able to appreciate that."
She also wants to help change the perception of what Malaysians — and to a certain extent, Asian parents in general — consider nutritious for young children.
"Apple juice, for instance, is not as nutritious as many people believe, as it tends to be full of sugar and contain very little nutrients. Because it has been broken down, its liquid composition means it lacks the fibre needed for a healthy diet.
"That's why we opt for purees and yoghurts. We lightly steam our ingredients before blending them into purees, so children can still get the necessary fibres and nutrients in a convenient format."
In terms of expansion, Yap said the brand has received enquiries from Singapore and even Abu Dhabi, but wants to conduct more extensive research and planning before deciding on whether or not to expand outside of the South East Asia region.
"We would need a kitchen in each of these countries, as well as to identify where we can source fresh local produce and how to adapt our products to local tastes.
"However, we do plan to expand to more states in Malaysia, as well as to countries outside of Malaysia. As long as we can ensure we are still able to use the same ‘no nonsense added’ model of organically sourced, freshly made and halal-certified food production, we are keen to enter new markets.”