Last October, Siti Nur Aishah Ishak took her experience from almost a decade and a half in the Malaysian foodservice industry and decided to bring it to sauces.
She had developed a concept that she claims hadn’t seen before: a “multipurpose” range of consumer pantry products made from natural ingredients that can be prepared in several ways.
“I wanted the sauces to do barbecue, sauces, soups and marinades. You can use as much or as little, so if you’re a novice in the kitchen, you can do as much as taking the sauce out and cooking it. If you’re an expert, you can do so much more,” she said.
“I didn’t see that on the market, and I wanted to bring a change and to bring value. We had a team of experienced chefs doing R&D. I told them to come up with something that is multipurpose and authentic.”
Aya, her Kuala Lumpur-headquartered, Perak-based brand of ready-to-cook sauces and pastes, now carries four lines out of a planned seven. Kalio is an Indonesian sauce for curries and rendangs that can be used for steaming, grilling or stir-frying, and contains turmeric thyme leaves and coconut milk.
Anchovy-based Karashi Bills is crunchy and can be served as a canapé or as a filling for sushi, while Aya’s Seafood Cook Out is zesty and works as a dip or a marinade. The brand’s fourth line is a starter kit combining the other three.
“I haven’t come across this multipurpose sauce anywhere else. It can be a soup, a thick sauce could be used as a marinade, while a thin sauce could be for cooking,” Aishah continued.
Initially, the plan was to start selling Aya on its own platform but soon retailers came on board. Requests from foodservice businesses in the Philippines, China and Japan have also recently been coming in.
“It’s very exciting for us because we are a new baby in the market and the response has been great,” Aishah said.
“There are a few competitors that have been in the market for 20-30 years, but there’s no imagination in them; they aren’t tapping into what they can do with their sauces.”
Still in the first phase of her business plan, she is now getting ready for the second, which will focus on bringing awareness that good, healthy food does not have to be unaffordable.
“When it started this business, I wanted a minimalist approach, elevate it above local brands to make it look like it’s export. We spent a lot of time behind the scenes photographing our sauce to make it look different from local brands.
“Next, I want to change the mindset in Malaysia to show that what you put inside your body matters. I’m not going to spill the beans yet, though. It’s only the beginning now,” she added.