Selling powdered coffee under the Leone and OtarieVille brands, as well as ready-to-eat paste under the Laiky brand, the company is also the sole distributor for Bintang’s instant beverages in Singapore.
The idea for U-Group came after founder Foo Say Thye, who also operates a charity group called Heartwarmers in Singapore, realised that food prices were constantly rising.
The charity group distributes goodie bags filled with common food items, including instant beverages.
“As food prices keep increasing, we had to cut down on the number of items in the goodie bag. So I thought if I could start selling beverages into the mass market, the profits can be used to fund our charity work, and ensure our goodie bags contain the same number of items.”
U-Group was launched in 2019 in Singapore, mainly selling through its online store as well as supermarkets.
Initially, it sold about 200 to 300 cartons monthly, but sales have steadily grown and in the first half of 2021 it sold around 4,000.
Currently 90% of its sales come from Singapore, and the rest its export markets of China and Uzbekistan which it entered in 2020, selling into supermarkets.
China and Uzbekistan
The firm sells its OtarieVille products in China, available in white (25g) and black coffee (10g).
In Uzbekistan, both OtarieVille and Leone coffee products are available. The Leone brand includes Kopi O (10g) and white coffee (40g sachets).
According to Foo, the difference in serving sizes in China is because consumers are still more familiar with tea and may not like their coffee too strong.
Uzbekistan is part of the One Belt One Road trade route, which was why Foo decided to export there.
He cited the country as being as “open, modern and receptive to new products and ideas. This is an unpolished gem.”
Foo hopes to set up a supermarket in Uzbekistan in the future, stocking Singapore foods.
But he hopes to build up its product portfolio first, pointing out that transportation costs to landlocked Uzbekistan was high and reliant on distribution by train through China.
Foo said: “My goal is to have our coffee in every train station along this route, all the way to Singapore.”
The company hopes to eventually export to Russia, Kazakhstan, other Central Asia regions, and the ASEAN region.
U-Group’s beverages are manufactured in Malacca, Malaysia.
The firm is also planning new products in the future, exploring the use of natural ingredients in its instant beverages.
Recently, the Leone brand also launched a lemon tea and lime juice range.
The Laiky brand sells a range of ready-to-eat local pastes such as chilli paste and black pepper sauce.