Plant-based snacks have been the trendy thing this year, and businesses that are early-movers like healthy snacks maker Boxgreen have benefited from the hype.
This is as Covid-19 has made people get more health-conscious and “pickier with their snack choices, seeking alternatives from what they can find on supermarket shelves,” said Boxgreen’s co-founder Andrew Lim in an exclusive interview with Vulcan Post.
This year, Boxgreen’s business is estimated to grow by 10 per cent to 15 per cent, partly due to a slight recovery from a year ago amid Covid-19 disruptions.
“For our snack business, the majority of sales still come from online channels and corporate sales. This is largely consistent with a year ago…We are optimistic that our new sales driver, pure-play e-commerce marketplaces, will help us to reach this growth figure,” Andrew said.
The founders – Andrew and Walter Oh – have come a long way since starting Boxgreen as a side hustle in January 2014 with an initial capital of under S$40,000.
Their mission to make snacking fun, easy, and nutritious has since been accepted by a market where individuals practice healthy living and eating.
In the past seven years, the startup has expanded to a team of 29 people. It isn’t resting on its laurels, as it constantly pushes out new products to capture fleeting customers’ attention in the saturated e-commerce scene.
Boxgreen sells many healthy snack varieties, including flavours such as Berry Apricot Bursts, Cheng Tng, and Coffee Almond Crumble Bar. Prices for a packet of snacks start from S$3.90. Its most popular snack continues to be the Shitake Mushroom chips.
It also sells peanut butter spreads and most recently launched its Crunchies snack range.
In May 2019, the startup raised an undisclosed funding as part of its pre-Series A round and acquired cold-pressed juice manufacturer Squeezed! Juice. The acquisition gave it insight into the beverage market.
The brand Juicy Folks sells plant-based cold-pressed or cold brew beverages like its ‘get acai-ted’ and ‘perky gingy’ juice.
The insight into the beverage market is probably a reason why it decided to venture further into the industry, this time selling tea.
From healthy snacks to tea
In April this year, Boxgreen launched a new tea brand called Imperfect Drinks.
“It all started when we thought, ‘The snacks need something to wash it down with!’. And so, we began brewing delicious drinks too,” mused Andrew.
It sells cold brew fruit teas like ‘Lychee Oolong’, ‘Manuka Apple’, and ‘Passionfruit Jasmine’. The drinks start from S$5.90 a bottle and contain zero grams of fat. It also sells coffee.
The venture has proven to be the right call, as it’s currently growing an average of 20 per cent month-on-month since its inception.
The startup has plans to launch a new specialty tea bag subscription range in December.
You may wonder where the tea gets packed and sorted. Well, in its Singapore manufacturing facility at Changi Prison Complex.
Boxgreen has been big on social enterprise projects like the Yellow Ribbon SG initiative, as part of efforts to follow its brand motto of #SnackGoodDoGood.
“Our goal is to make great drinks with an even better purpose by working with ex-offenders to brew, juice, and blend tasty drinks in our factory at Changi Prison Complex,” said Andrew.
He added that the operations at the manufacturing facility in Changi Prison Complex are going well. Currently Boxgreen has trained and worked with around 100 inmates. “We are incredibly privileged to play a small part in helping people along the way in their journey.”
‘Crunchies’ snacks, work-from-home demand shift
The firm launched its plant-based Crunchies snack range this year. The snacks are said to offer an “irresistible crunch” in both savoury and sweet flavours. There are ‘Crunchies Munchies Bundles’ for a packet of four selling at S$39.90. A single packet is sold from S$9.90.
“Our data from the last five years showed that Singaporeans love crunchy snacks, so we thought a crunchy natural range would be perfect to launch as a retail range,” Andrew shared on why the brand rolled out this product.
“In addition, we know that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of plant-based options and their impact on the environment. We wanted to introduce snack varieties that are not so common in the market.”
Through the rollout of new products like Crunchies, Boxgreen hopes to scale up its operations and sales, and has been witnessing positive reception as seen by its supermarket sales.
“We just launched into supermarkets this year with our Crunchies range and we are seeing orders picking up. For our beverage business, F&B and supermarkets remain a strong driver of growth and with the recovery this year in the sector, we do see revenue stabilising compared to 2020,” said Andrew.
The firm has been going strong on e-commerce too. It has successfully launched into a few new channels like VPLabel, Shopee, Redmart, Lazada, and Amazon.
Andrew said that the business has been looking good during this period as there’s an increased demand for healthy snacks now that people are mostly staying at home and trying to snack healthier.
And with the work-from-home situation, the response on care packs is also going strong.
“With the working from the home arrangement and social distancing, a lot of companies see the need to connect with their employees and care packages are a great way to show how much you appreciate them,” said Andrew.
Every month, Boxgreen works with about 50 companies to send care packages to hundreds of their staff. Some firms also choose to send vouchers so that their staff can select the products themselves.
“We also do see an increase in new customers mostly through word of mouth. Most of them picked Boxgreen because we are a one-stop service,” Andrew said.
“We deliver directly to homes and allow them to bundle Covid-19 essential items (such as masks and hand sanitiser), include card messages in each set, and on top of that, we are healthier. They want to keep their staff healthy.”
Adaptability the key to overcoming Covid-19
Boxgreen’s ability to adapt and innovate according to consumers’ needs with the many product offerings is seen as its strengths.
“We see the products as being complementary to each other and caters to our existing consumer base. Singapore is a small market and we believe that having a measured diversity of products allows us to continue to grow.”
However, Andrew acknowledges that too much diversification is not without risks.
“There are definitely risks involved when diversifying our range of products. But with economies of scale and our expertise in food production and logistics, we believe that these risks are better managed.”
The increase in online sales during Covid-19 was definitely something to cheer for the startup, but the pandemic also caused the business some hiccups.
“We faced issues like running out of stock due to split team setup and production disruptions from the pandemic lockdowns. We’re working to simplify our product offering and build up a bigger buffer stock. However, there’s only so much a small business can do to channel resources into such business contingencies,” said Andrew.
Another concern that’s Covid-19 driven is its vending machines deployed in corporate offices. With more working from home, the pandemic has affected demand for these by “a little”, he said.
“Vending machine sales were affected as employees are mostly working from home but we did work with some of the companies to convert the vending machines budget into care packages that can be sent directly to employees’ homes,” Andrew said.
Despite setbacks due to the pandemic, interest in Boxgreen’s vending machine service has been well supported, as the startup has deployed 10 more machines as compared to the previous year.
“There’s definitely demand for healthier snacks in offices. Eating the right snacks does help to increase productivity level by keeping employees energised all day.”
“Having them readily available means that employees are more likely to partake in the healthy eating trend. It’s a great way to show the company cares about the health of its employees,” Andrew said.
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Featured Image Credit: Boxgreen