Seed to snack: Singapore firm Zenko eyes expansion across APAC with clean label treats
First launched in late 2019 in specialty stores, the firm now stocks products over 200 outlets across Singapore including supermarkets and petrol stations.
Its water lily pops products are made from water lily seeds which are harvested, sun dried, roasted and popped. It also has few ingredients, for instance, the original flavour only contains water lily seeds and olive oil.
“We are not making healthier chips from the same ingredients, we are working on a new ingredient with minimal processing,” said Wouter Duyck, co-founder and CEO of Zenko.
The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the way people purchase foods, including snacks, and Duyck said the healthy snacking trend in Singapore and Asia was a small but growing category, compared to Europe and US.
The firm had initially planned on entering Australia beginning of 2021 but the pandemic pushed back plans to next year.
It is also eyeing expansion into South East Asia, where it has received interest from Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines as well as India.
Bigger goals include Europe where the founders are from, although its immediate focus is on APAC: “We see a lot of potential here, but it just takes a little bit longer because you have to create and educate the market about healthy snacking,” Duyck said.
Healthy snacking market
When Zenko first launched in Singapore supermarkets, Duyck said there was not really a healthy snacking category in stores, or the healthy snacks available were mostly a line extension of popular brands.
He told us price, taste and availability were the biggest selling points when it came to growing the healthy snack market in Singapore.
Many healthy snack brands tend to price their products around $7 or 8 per pack, while Zenko’s cost $3.50.
In Singapore, many consumers still place more emphasis on taste, much more than nutrition and the health conscious aspect.
Many healthy snacks also tend to be sold online and are not readily available in major supermarkets, making availability a pain point.
For its export plans, market research for each country is necessary, according to Duyck. For instance, if it chose to enter Vietnam, this might mean changing the pack size and price point to make the product more affordable to consumers there. “No matter how healthy you make it, at a price of $5, the purchasing power is not there for the average person.”
Before the pandemic, Zenko’s sales used to come from corporate offices and events, but that disappeared after restrictions kicked in.
Now about half of the sales are online through its e-commerce store, Amazon, Lazada, Redmart, Shopee and the other half in physical stores.
While events sampling and supermarket sampling was its marketing strategy before the pandemic, the firm has substitute this with brands ambassadors now.
The firm operates a seed-to-snack business model, where the seeds are harvested, dried, roasted, and popped at its facility in India.
Because its snacks production was located in India, and the pandemic saw India’s borders shut, Zenko was left without any stocks for three months.
Amid this period, the firm started on another project, a business making the Indonesian herbal drink Jamu.
Duyck said ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, tamarind were sourced locally and manufactured in Singapore.
Selling under the Jamuboost brand, the chilled drinks are available for sale on the e-commerce store.
The firm is currently expanding its healthy snacks line. It recently launched sorghum snacks, and will launch two more additions next year.
“We really believe in the healthy snacking future, and there's so many products across the world that we consider a superfood and they only need a very simple process of popping or roasting to make a healthy snack from it without having to do any ultra-processing,” Duyck said.