Signature Market for healthy snacks: Malaysian firm on a mission to become the Trader Joe’s of South East Asia

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

One of Signature Market's innovative products - an avocado smoothie in a packet. ©Signature Market
One of Signature Market's innovative products - an avocado smoothie in a packet. ©Signature Market

Related tags Healthy snacks Malaysia

Malaysian healthy snacks firm Signature Market has ambitious hopes to launch of four to six new healthy snacks a week as it pursues its mission to become the Trader Joe’s of South East Asia.

Signature Market comprises of an online platform and a huge variety – over 700 SKUs as of February 2021 - of its own manufactured products, and has also set a target to launch four to six innovative yet healthy new products weekly on Wednesdays.

“The target is to eventually reach 2,000 SKUs so we’ve still got a ways to go, but this is a main priority and we’re making huge investments in our R&D to make this happen, as we believe FMCG is all about innovation,”​ Signature Market CEO and Co-Founder Edwin Wang told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“We very much want to emulate the success of Trader Joe’s in the USA, one of the only grocery stores to carry its own brands with a strong focus on natural and organic products – the idea is to bring this concept to Malaysia and we look to become the Trader Joe’s of Malaysia, and hopefully South East Asia.

“Of course, Trader Joe’s runs on a grocery store concept as back when they started that was the only option, and eventually we’re looking to have our own grocery stores as well, but for any business starting these days it makes sense to go online.”

With its own factory in Taman Connaught, Kuala Lumpur, Signature Market is well-positioned to both expand on its R&D and product innovation efforts, in addition to co-manufacturing and co-R&D partnerships with various F&B brands to further boost and maintain its large product portfolio.

“We’ve found it possible to maintain our portfolio of around 700 product SKUs as there is actually a trend in the F&B industry today where manufacturers are aware of the importance of product freshness, hence are allowing for smaller Minimum Order Quantities (MOQs) and more frequent orders to be put in,”​ said Wang.

“Previously manufacturers would always put priority on lowest cost so higher minimum quantities as soon as they start their machines were important, but now consumers have upgraded to be more focused on better products and quality, e.g. they are willing to pay for the organic version of a product if it is 20% to 30% more expensive to treat themselves better.

“So for our products, our factory focuses a lot on roasted nuts and trail mixes and we work with well-known F&B firms to ask them to customize their best sellers to our needs and produce these OEM, so [although I can’t reveal their names], for example our chocolate chip cookies are similar to a popular brand’s cookies but with no preservatives and less sugar.”

The majority of Signature Market’s products have a shelf life of about six months due to the use of no preservatives.

Popular healthy snacks in Malaysia

Signature Market’s star product is its roasted nuts, and Wang attributes the success of these to its guarantee of product freshness.

“As we are able to produce the roasted nuts in our factory, we can offer consumers a freshness experience that no one else can which is that of freshly roasted product,”​ he said,

“Our competitors in this space normally have to bake a large batch in the factory and store these for a few days in their store, then send these to retail store headquarters or distributors where they are stored again for another few days, and then sent to store branches for actual retail where these then sit for a long time waiting to be purchased, so freshness is in no way guaranteed.

“For us, on average the time it takes from consumers to make their order to when it reaches them is about a week, much shorter than others as we roast daily.”

Another big healthy snack trend in Malaysia is that of alternative milk products like almond, soy and oat milks.

“This is because many people are finding themselves lactose intolerant even after many years of drinking dairy, so this category is rising in popularity and we’re responding with products like lattes and chocolate beverages containing soy milk – we’ve made sure to make all of these in powder form as we’re an e-commerce platform and [for the convenience factor too],”​ said Wang.

“We also have an avocado honey smoothie with oat and soy in packet form – avocado has obviously been a very trendy product, since about two years ago, and many stores have been selling these for a high price.

“For all popular products, consumers always look for a take-home version to take for supper or at home, and this is our offering for them.”

All of the firm’s products are made using healthier processing methods, for example vacuum frying (cooking at high pressure and low temperature using less oil) instead of deep frying, and freeze drying.

Moving forward

Signature Market mostly operates in Malaysia and also ships products to Singapore currently, and is also looking at expanding to Vietnam and Indonesia.

“We had expansion plans for last year, but COVID-19 delayed a lot of things, so we will be restarting our expansion focus in 2022, right after we go IPO in Q2 2022,”​ said Wang.

“The main focus will probably be to Indonesia due to the big market there and Indonesia’s strong acceptance of Malaysian-made products. We also received halal certification last year, which has already helped us grow our local Malay market.

“This year though we are going to be focusing on two more key areas which are traditional Chinese medicine, where we will send sell bundles of herbs as well as include educational aspects to this; and the parents and babies section where we will look at food products first.”

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