CEO Series

How A Bad Stomach Helped These M’sians Start A Business Where They Put Bacteria In Tea

  • WonderBrew is a Malaysian producer and seller of kombucha drinks started by Joseph Poh and his co-founders Adam and Boon.
  • Founded in November 2018, WonderBrew sells their products online as well as in various retail outlets across the Klang Valley.
  • They plan to leverage upon millennial Malaysians’ demand for healthier options in the market to build their business.

There’s a new F&B item slowly gaining popularity in the Klang Valley called kombucha, a drink created through the process of fermenting SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

For those unfamiliar with kombucha, the drink throughout its various interpretations has been around for more than 200 years, and supposedly comes with a host of nutritional and health benefits. These include maintaining a healthy gut, an improved immune system, higher energy levels, and better digestion amongst other things.

Thus, the drink follows the healthy-eating trend that’s been gaining popularity over the past few years, and lately, there have been more and more producers of kombucha in KL especially.

One such producer of kombucha products is WonderBrew, a new company founded by Ipoh-born Joseph Poh (formerly a trading and investment banker, and also the first franchisee of Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart in Malaysia) and his two partners Adam and Boon in November 2018.

The idea for WonderBrew came to Joseph after hearing good things about kombucha from Adam who had some stomach discomfort on a trip to Bali, where the drink helped to alleviate his symptoms.

“After hearing that, I went and tried it at a local grocer—Ben’s—and fell in love with it after taking my first sip,” Joseph explained. “Then I started drinking it more to improve my gut’s health.”

Subsequently, Joseph went on to do more research about kombucha online and eventually ended up attending a workshop where he met his second co-founder Boon who had plenty of experience brewing and selling kombucha products since 2016.

One thing led to another, and eventually the idea to create a business off kombucha materialised.

“Based on three factors—great taste, affordability, accessibility, I knew I had a business opportunity to fill a market gap with a possibly great team,” Joseph said. “Seeing as we had different backgrounds and strengths that complement one another, I initiated meet-ups to explore a partnership, and the rest is history.”

A Meticulous Brew

Right now, WonderBrew exists as a three-man operation and is run out of a commercial kitchen where their products are made fresh daily. Their versions of kombucha come in a variety of flavours such as passion fruit, green tea, and beets.

Image Credit: WonderBrew

They use organic ingredients sourced from local organic farmers, and abstain from using artificial additives and preservatives in order to output as pure of a product as possible.

“When we started off, our kombucha was brewed in a home kitchen,” Joseph said. “However, we found that there were limitations to home brewing—although our kitchen was clean, we found it difficult to explain and prove to some customers our standards of hygiene.”

“Thus, we made a decision to upgrade our brewing within a commercial kitchen to ensure quality and safety in every batch, and we also took the opportunity to design the commercial kitchen to provide an optimum environment for kombucha brewing,” he said.

Other things that WonderBrew does to ensure their products remain as pure as possible include using glass jars during fermentation to prevent leaching, close monitoring, and brewing in small batches.

WonderBrew’s kombucha products are now sold at prices of RM12.90 per bottle and can be bought online (with doorstep delivery), as well in Ben’s Independent Grocer, Village Grocer, and a number of fitness centres, cafes, and co-working spaces around the Klang Valley.

Simple Supply & Demand

Speaking on the longevity of kombucha, Joseph is of the opinion that there’s plenty of opportunities for his product to become successful, especially considering the rising interest in health trends among millennial Malaysians.

Image Credit: WonderBrew

“The world is getting more health-conscious, and in Malaysia, people are starting to pick up health trends from the West,” he said. “For instance, we started seeing the boom of creative workout studios such as Ministry Of Burn, healthy eating such as Goodness Greens and Rawsome, and fermented products such as kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha.”

“Perhaps it’s not difficult to see the reasons behind this—people are exposed to work stress, pollution, unhealthy local cuisine, unhealthy lifestyles, and also easier access to health information online,” he added.

But before looking to grab at more of the market, Joseph and his team have to first weather the storm of limited resources, just like all new businesses do.

“We’re more cautious when it comes to spending our resources, despite the many plans we have for WonderBrew,” Joseph explained. “Now we plan and prioritise our goals to achieve healthy and sustainable growth, and we’re very much about self-sustenance from cash flow generated from sales.”

This coupled with the challenge of having a tight cash flow due to operational demands means that Joseph and his crew are always planning way ahead and are always taking on multiple responsibilities to ensure the brand can grow—something they don’t necessarily mind.

“Being a startup means sometimes you may have to do everything by yourself, even though you’re not an expert at it,” he said. “Currently, we’re running on a three-man team and despite each of us having our own roles, we don’t mind going beyond that to help each other out.”

“Personally, I enjoyed and learned so much from my partners when we work together,” he continued.

Image Credit: WonderBrew

So Far, So Wonderful

But so far, WonderBrew has managed to do pretty well for themselves, putting their products in 13 different locations in their very first month and adding on six more in the subsequent month, and then doubling their growth within that same time span.

“We’re very glad that some of the big and reputable retailers like Village Grocer and Ben’s are willing to take a chance on us though we’re a new brand,” Joseph said. “Hopefully with them on-board, we’ll be able to open more doors in the future.”

The founders of WonderBrew / Image Credit: WonderBrew

Looking ahead, Joseph said that WonderBrew will look to expand their distribution channels to other major Malaysian cities such as Penang and Johor, with their target being 100 locations by the end of 2019. This will work in tandem with their plans to work with corporate clients more, and grow their number of clients.

“Aside from the different ways of distribution, we’ll continue work on improving and maintaining high product standards,” Joseph said. “For instance, we’re in the midst of applying for halal certification with JAKIM to ensure confidence in consumers and bring the first halal-certified kombucha to the local community by this year.”

Feature Image Credit: WonderBrew

 

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