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How this engineering student’s grocery site is trying to solve Malaysia’s food waste issue

Because it can take me up to 2 hours to cook something that isn’t instant noodles or canned food, I’ve yet to reach an adulthood level where I’m cooking every day of the week. So for now, the chore is reserved for just the weekends or a particularly productive weekday.

Abdulrahman Ahmed is a Software Engineering student who can relate to this. Often getting takeout, he rarely cooked for himself. But when he did, he found that the ingredient portions sold in regular grocery stores were too large. 

“[They don’t have] consumers like me in mind, a person who would cook only once or twice every 2 weeks and would be forced to buy more food than I need,” Abdulrahman described to Vulcan Post. This often leads to leftover food being thrown out after going bad.

Hence, he took it upon himself to develop a service where individuals could shop for groceries in smaller portions, therefore only buying the ingredients in exact amounts they need. 

The tipping point was a single banana

Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Abdulrahman came to KL to study at Asia Pacific University. Living alone, he’d occasionally crave home-cooked meals and wherever he could, he’d get takeout for them.

“As a Somali, we’d usually eat chicken or beef biryani with a banana,” he shared. “So, I would always have to overspend on purchasing a whole bunch of bananas when I just needed one.” 

Aggravated, he recalled saying to his twin brother, “Why am I forced to buy all these bananas that I don’t want when I just need one? I wish there was a service that allowed me to buy the exact portion of food that I need.”

That was the trigger to Abdulrahman’s journey into launching Fractional Market in October 2021, with half a banana as its logo.

Buy what you need

Fractional Market’s Shop page is where customers will buy their groceries in portions. From there, you can choose to add items in your cart and specify the weight or quantities of your desired amount (eg. 1 piece of banana or 100g of milk) from a drop down menu.

Prices are reflected based on the portions you chose. The cost of portioned items is determined based on the product’s existing price at grocery stores, with an added premium on them that serves as service costs. This is how Fractional Market monetises.

Furthermore, deliveries are free if orders exceed RM20. Otherwise, it’ll be RM5. 

However, the products listed on Fractional Market are limited, with no meats or frozen items available. When asked, Abdulrahman had a good reason for this.

Just the essentials

During his market validation, Abdulrahman realised that people mainly wanted to buy fresh vegetables in smaller quantities because they would go bad faster.

On the other hand, meat could be frozen. Thus, with meat and other frozen items being less of a priority, Abdulrahman has limited the items offered, but he’s open to adding more in the future, and will do so as the business grows. 

He doesn’t even have an inventory

Still operating on a minuscule scale, the most economical and efficient way to carry out such an operation is on a per-order basis. Meaning, once an order arrives, Abdulrahman will go to the grocery store nearby, purchase the products, fractionalise it in-house, then deliver it to the consumer. 

To maintain a level of food safety, Abdulrahman, who sometimes ropes in his brother, will wear face masks, gloves, and cover up all their hair when working with the items.

“Repacking should not take more than 1 to 2 minutes as we try to minimise external contact as much as possible,” he added. 

Currently repackaged in plastic ziplock bags, Abdulrahman is also looking into greener options as being environmentally conscious and sustainable is one of the company’s core values. It was the whole point of Fractional Market’s presence too, to hopefully reduce food waste.

Leveraging pop-culture 

One thing I found interesting about Fractional Market was also its promise to deliver a customer’s groceries within an hour of placing your order, considering the repackaging needed. While I didn’t test this out myself, Abdulrahman has actually been able to fulfill his orders within this timeframe. 

This is because most of his current customers are the neighbours in his apartment complex. 

Being a youth, he also had interesting marketing ideas that leveraged pop culture. 2 weeks into the site’s launch, Squid Game was the talk of the town.

So, Abdulrahman and his brother made cards that looked like the ones on the show and left them on their neighbours’ doorsteps.

There was a QR code on the back / Image Credit: Fractional Market

He printed 100 pieces and spent 2 hours cutting them into shape. He then woke up at 4:30AM the next day and spent over an hour walking around the building, selectively leaving cards in front of the doors that had the most shoes displayed. 

“To me, that meant there were more potential customers obtained per card,” Abdulrahman stated. And out of the 100 cards distributed, Fractional Market attained around 70 new visits to the site. (Well, thank goodness those cards weren’t an entrance to Squid Games IRL.)

Though he didn’t get explosive results, he did report that he’s now getting 1-2 orders a day on average.

Will this work on a large scale?

To me, Fractional Market and the way it’s being run right now may work on a smaller scale when there aren’t that many customers. If demand picks up however, there would need to be a bigger team to handle preparation and delivery.

Thus, I had to probe its founder on his longevity plan for Fractional Market.

“This is a business that would benefit greatly from scale,” he envisioned. With more users, more data will be present on customer demands, which will in turn be valuable information to the team in managing their inventory that Abdulrahman hopes to expand too.

“I believe that this business has great potential and if I am able to weather the storm of the early days, I can manage the growth from there on.”

As he says, there’s potential for demand to grow, but it’s likely that he’ll need to automate certain processes in the future to meet increased demands.

-//-

Of course, Malaysia does have stores to purchase groceries in portions: bulk stores. But from our previous analysis, we’ve found that they mostly cater to the wealthy, which is less accessible for those needing their groceries in portions at a lower cost. 

Hence, Fractional Market addresses an issue in a small, yet effective way that can help less privileged people looking for smaller portions when grocery shopping. They include groups like students and single households.

  • You can learn more about Fractional Market here.
  • You can read about more zero-waste related stories here.

Featured Image Credit: Abdulrahman Ahmed, founder of Fractional Market

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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