Entrepreneur

These S'poreans Quit Banking And Invested Under $40K To Make You Go Nuts Over Healthy Snacks

Andrew Lim, 35, and Walter Oh, 33, first met each other when they were both working at DBS Bank. They had started out as management associates, and eventually became corporate bankers.

During their time there, they often worked long hours till late at the office. They frequently skipped meals, and satisfied their hunger with snacks most of the time.

“We often had to rely on vending machines selling unhealthy snacks for sustenance. We toyed with the concept of having a service that would deliver healthy snacks to people regularly to make it convenient and easier to eat healthier,” said Andrew, who is now the co-founder of Boxgreen.

That gap for a convenient access to healthy snacks spurred them to start up a healthy snack subscription service in Singapore.

From Buying Snacks At A Supermarket To Making Their Own

They pumped in an initial capital of under S$40,000 to kickstart Boxgreen as a side hustle in January 2014.

According to the co-founders, Boxgreen’s mission is to make snacking fun, easy and nutritious.

We want to make healthier snacking actually tasty and effortless by offering an array of snacks of different ingredients and textures to keep things interesting.

We also keep everything in single-serve packaging so it’s easy to grab and go, and also encourages you to snack in moderation.

– Andrew Lim, co-founder of Boxgreen

Andrew and Walter sussed out interest from their colleagues, and many loved the idea of a healthy snack box so they started placing pre-orders with them.

greenbox healthy snacks
The first iteration of a Boxgreen box / Image Credit: Boxgreen

The duo made trips to the supermarket to source for healthy snacks and packed them in boxes in their living rooms. The very first box was mailed out in May 2014.

“We gave away the first 100 boxes online and personally hand-delivered each one to understand the customer base and market needs,” Andrew told Vulcan Post.

However, they soon realised that these snack boxes didn’t add any value at all because customers could purchase them on their own. They also started getting requests for specific types of snacks such as low-sodium or zero-sodium snacks.

That’s when they knew they had to innovate and customise their own snacks.

They built their own kitchen to experiment, and worked with an in-house nutritionist to ensure that all snacks that they churn out are healthy.

In a separate interview with The Straits Times, Andrew pointed out that they tend to experiment a lot. They don’t waste too much time on research and development, and choose to fail fast.

If a particular product doesn’t work out, they simply scrap it and come up with another.

boxgreen healthy snacks
Image Credit: Boxgreen

Today, Boxgreen has up to 40 snack varieties, including interesting flavours such as cheng tng almond mix, banana pecan crumble, salted egg quinoa bar and spicy mexicano burrito mix.

Going Beyond Subscription Boxes

Boxgreen eventually “grew big enough” that they decided to quit their jobs in May 2015 to run the business full-time.

They started focusing on e-commerce as they found it to be the most cost-efficient way to build the business.

It took time for Boxgreen to gain traction though as such concepts weren’t very common back then, said Andrew.

Thankfully, word of mouth helped spread word about their business.

When customers had their snack boxes delivered to their offices, it piqued interest from fellow colleagues and office managers, and they started getting more enquiries.

A few years ago, they started introducing the build-your-own-box (BYOB) feature so customers can fill their box with their favourites.

“We discovered that Singaporeans like to know what they’re paying for, in contrast to many surprise subscription boxes that exist in the US,” reasoned Andrew.

boxgreen vending machine
Image Credit: Boxgreen

To make healthy snacking even more accessible, Boxgreen also started exploring vending machines in 2017 as a supplementary channel.

Instead of relying on another vending machine company and just be another supplier, we thought it would be better to own and brand our vending machines so that we had full control over the content of the machines as well as the look and feel of the customer experience.

All of our vending machines are cashless and have digital screens to enhance the experience. We currently have over 50 machines deployed around the island.

– Andrew Lim, co-founder of Boxgreen

In May 2019, Boxgreen raised an undisclosed funding from Octava Impact Investment, Angel Central Syndicate, and existing investors Expara Ventures as part of its pre-series A round.

boxgreen squeezed juice
Squeezed! Juice and Boxgreen team / Image Credit: Boxgreen

Following the funding, Boxgreen also acquired cold-pressed juice manufacturer Squeezed! Juice to develop more functional food options to snack and drink on-the-go.

This was when they also started introducing cold-pressed juices to their vending machine selection.

Snack Good, Do Good

In April 2017, Boxgreen was B-corp certified — this means that they’re using the business as a force for good to create a positive impact in the community.

boxgreen healthy snacks
Image Credit: Boxgreen

Boxgreen donates two per cent of its revenue, and a portion of their sales proceeds goes towards providing meals for the needy.

Through the firm’s “1-box-1-meal” initiative, they have donated over 30,000 meals to local soup kitchen Willing Hearts in 2018.

The company also uses eco-friendly packaging. All their boxes and cards are made of recycled material, and its plastic packaging is also recyclable.

Additionally, 60 per cent of the firm’s expenses are spent with independent local suppliers and producers to help reduce the environmental footprint of its supply chain.

In its effort to “create positive social value” across its entire supply chain, Boxgreen also manages its manufacturing and operations in-house.

It champions fair and inclusive hiring practices, and for its new manufacturing facility in Changi Prison, it has offered training and employment opportunities to ex-offenders.

Commenting on their social impact, Andrew said they they will continue to strive towards providing more job and training opportunities to people in vulnerable communities.  

With a strong focus on creating social impact, it has actually opened doors of business opportunities for Boxgreen.

boxgreen healthy snacks
Image Credit: Boxgreen

About three years ago also, Boxgreen started going beyond subscription services to retail snack pouches.

We were actually invited by one of the major supermarket chains to list our products in their store. They wanted to feature local brands and found our social impact story interesting.

We are currently in around 40 supermarkets outlets in Singapore and we hope to continue to grow this channel further.

– Andrew Lim, co-founder of Boxgreen

They Stock Pantries For Firms Like DBS, Twitter

boxgreen healthy snacks
Image Credit: Boxgreen

When asked about their turning point that helped to spike Boxgreen’s growth, Andrew cited tapping into office pantry channels and bringing their snacks into the workplace as a key factor.

Some of their pantries they supply to include banks like DBS, tech giants like Twitter, as well as many other medium to large companies.

With the COVID-19 pandemic however, Boxgreen has seen a drop in their corporate pantry business as almost everyone shifted to working from home.

On the flipside, they saw a spike in a need for care packages as many businesses were finding ways to send gift packages to their teams working from home and to clients during this difficult period.

In a 2016 interview, Boxgreen shared that they delivered over 75,000 snack packs to a customer base of over 2,000 members, and has grown its revenue tenfold year-on-year since launch.

In that same year, Boxgreen also expanded into Malaysia but has since exited.

“We’ve closed the Malaysia business to concentrate the focus on Singapore, and we’re looking to expand in a big way onto local retail shelves with the view of eventually exporting (when) the opportunity arises,” explained Andrew.

Wrapping up the interview with a piece of business advice, Andrew stressed that entrepreneurs should always remember why they’re doing what they’re doing.

“Money can be a motivating factor, but it shouldn’t be the only thing that’s driving you,” he said, adding that it’s always good to zero in on the very problem you wanted to solve when you first started.

Featured Image Credit: Boxgreen

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