Cut the sugar: Potonguler’s stevia-based condensed milk could complement Malaysia’s sugar tax strategy
“The average tea or coffee that are the favourites with Malaysians eating at any local kopitiams (coffee shops) contains condensed milk, and is about 140 calories per cup – with Potonguler condensed milk, this can be cut down to just 50 calories,” Potonguler founder Amirah Jasmine Norman (Mia) told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Some 3.6 million Malaysians currently suffer from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and this number is predicted to rise to seven million by 2025 – this is due to an excessive amount of sugar in our foods and beverages.”
In the Malay language, Pontonguler essentially means ‘cut sugar’, and the company’s first product stays true to this as it contains ‘all the goodness of milk without any sugar’, according to Potonguler Co-founder Anas Lutfi Norman (Anas).
“The aim is to provide a zero sugar alternative, so that even diabetics can drink sweet beverages like teh tarik (pulled condensed milk tea) normally without worrying about sugar,” he said.
The product contains 70% premium full cream milk powder from New Zealand, stevia, and oligofructose, which is low-GI and has prebiotic benefits, according to Potonguler. The patent for both the sweetener blend and product itself is currently pending final review.
“Stevia is natural and brings zero calories [to the product], so it has an advantage as compared to a sweetener such as aspartame which is not natural,” said Mia.
“As monk fruit as an alternative, the barrier here is the cost, as this is very expensive and can reach up to twice the price of stevia.”
Anas added that price-wise, Potonguler condensed milk is retailing at RM7 (US$1.67) for 350g, which is comparable to its regular sugar-containing competitors at RM5 (US$1.20).
“We want to make this alternative product affordable and accessible to consumers, so as to reduce the rate of diseases, and as such reduce the costs for treatment,” he said.
The product is currently available online, via several direct distributors, and also at selected halal outlets in Malaysia.
Complementing sugar tax
The company’s condensed milk could very well be the answer to the lingering concerns about sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) that have plagued Malaysia even with the implementation of the country’s sugar tax earlier this year in July, and certainly looks to be a good complement to it
Experts have said that the sugar tax is unable to address the issue of non-packaged high-sugar beverages - such as the aforementioned coffee and teh tarik, because the tax only applies to packaged SSBs such as soda and juice.
“Malaysian consumers have a diverse selection of food and beverages to choose from. The beverages being taxed are but a small proportion of food and drink which are of poor nutrition and high in fat, sugar and salt,” said think tank Galen’s Chief Executive Azrul Mohd Khalib
“The list is long and arguably more problematic than soda drinks as they are consumed by the majority of consumers. These beverages will unfortunately escape taxation.”
“Consumers will switch or increase preference to familiar alternatives such as sirap bandung, milo, teh tarik (tea and condensed milk), kopi susu (coffee with milk) and three-layered tea.”
Indeed, the company has received the backing of several local government programmes to aid with exports and marketing, and has plans to expand its reach in the near future.
“We have already received a few direct orders from Singapore, and are also targeting countries such as India and the United Kingdom where there is a significant use of condensed milk and high acceptance of high-quality diabetic-friendly products,” said Anas.
The Norman siblings aim to establish a base for the company in the United Kingdom too, where they see many more opportunities in terms of B2B expansion and working with hotels, catering and the like.
“The usual challenges would apply here of course, such as licensing, employment, and working with government institutions, but we know that Potonguler can be a global brand, it is just a matter of time,” said Anas.
“In Malaysia, there are no other condensed milk products that use alternative sweeteners – we are ahead of the curve and want to stay ahead to stand out.”
Moving forward, Anas also predicts increased use of the product in the bubble tea industry.
“We are also developing a non-dairy coconut creamer for use in this area, so that consumers can enjoy bubble tea with less or no sugar added,” he said.
“Another area is in Ready-To-Drink dairy, where we are looking at producing RTD beverages such as chocolate-flavoured milks.”