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When childhood friends Vicole and Yeann started their corporate careers, they quickly realised how demanding work was. They found themselves skipping meals and unable to find quick, healthy, and tasty food options. 

But Yeann, who had spent time studying in Australia, learnt during her time abroad that a healthy lifestyle isn’t difficult when one has access to the right food choices.

Since returning from Australia, though, she began to notice Malaysia’s not-so-healthy food culture and eating habits.

But instead of sucking it up and falling into bad dietary habits, Yeann and Vicole put their heads together and began crafting a simple business plan.

Shortly after, they would kickstart their R&D efforts while working on the brand name and logo.

Together, the 27-year-old friends landed on a simple and effective name, MATES. Nine months later, they had a signature product to show for their efforts—Oatler

A couple of hustlers

Earlier this year, Vicole quit her job in property development to focus on MATES full-time. Having experienced running ecommerce stores before, she takes charge of marketing, operations, sourcing, and logistics for MATES.

Oatler is MATES’ flagship product, marketed as a complete food / Image Credit: MATES

Yeann, who handles the business strategy, finances, and business development side of things, had been working at Carsome when she first started MATES.

Oftentimes, entrepreneurs might feel uncomfortable sharing their own businesses with their employers, but such wasn’t the case with Yeann.

“My supervisor and the department did know about MATES and Oatler!” she shared. “I’m terribly grateful to have received tremendous support from everyone, especially my supervisor when I shared my side passion with them.”

Of course, Yeann had established an agreement with her superiors, ensuring that MATES would not be affecting her work performance.

As such, both Yeann and Vicole would have to stay up extra hours after their day-time job, forgoing sleep to make MATES into a reality.

Yeann has sinced moved from Carsome though to join an ecommerce aggregator. She believes that by being closer to the ecommerce space, she’ll be able to pick up valuable skills necessary to scale her DTC brand.

“I do not discount the possibility of running MATES full time, it all boils down to business needs,” she added. “For now, I’ll continue to rely on relentless time management.”

Made in Korea

Vicole and Yeann originally started looking at local manufacturers to produce the product, but they were unable to fulfil their requirements.

“We wanted Oatler to be natural with no-BS ingredients, but we were disappointed with the outcome and they were overly sweet and tasted artificial,” the founders shared.

Upon giving that feedback to manufacturers, they were recommended to add stronger flavouring such as chocolate to cover up the artificial taste.

So, the two decided to go with a manufacturer in Korea. According to the founders, Koreans in general have high standards for their products, with the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety having strict policies for food in place.

Oatler is manufactured in Korea / Image Credit: MATES

Oatler, as you might have guessed, mainly consists of oats. Canadian oats, to be specific. It also contains 17 types of Korean grains and soy protein, with added fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

The formula is exclusive to MATES, the founders having worked with a team of nutritionists to come up with the formulation.

Due to the pandemic as well as the duo’s thorough R&D process, they took more than a year from conceptualisation to actually launching the first prototype of Oatler. The official launch of Oatler by MATES came in October 2021.

Let’s oat out

While Yeann and Vicole did make Oatler sound fantastic, I wanted to get a taste of it myself. Thankfully, the two were kind enough to send over a few packs.

It arrived in a little cardboard box

On the first day, I tried Oatler with dairy milk. As marketed, it was a fast preparation process—I simply poured the milk into the package until I reached the line before shaking it up.

Unfortunately, there were still clumps in my drink. Later, when I told Yeann about this, she shared that the best technique is to “shake it like you mean it”.

My first impression of the drink was that it tasted like a cross between oatmeal and a milkshake. The dairy milk made it taste creamy and rich, making it a very fulfilling meal all around.

My favourite part was the crunchy, nutty bits inside which made the meal much more satisfying than the meal replacements I’ve tried in the past, which were fully liquid.

Having eaten at 1PM, I stayed satiated for the rest of the day, but got hungrier than usual at around 7PM.

Flavours aside, something I hadn’t accounted for was the social connotations of food. More than just sustenance, lunch is not just about eating. Often, it’s one of the only times you get to mingle with your colleagues casually.

You can see the clumps inside the package from my first day of trying Oatler

So, the next day, I decided to have Oatler for breakfast. This time, I used oat milk and made sure to shake it up more intensely. The drink was perfectly mixed this time, I noted as I poured it out in a separate glass.

Once again, it was super filling, and I even struggled to finish it. I also noticed that the flavour had started to taste a little bit plain (maybe because I’m not used to oat milk). 

Considering the thickness of the product, I would recommend drinking it from the packet itself if you want to save time on washing up.

All in all, Oatler is a pretty tasty beverage, but I can envision it starting to taste boring after a while.

However, if taste continues to be an issue, Yeann suggests adding chocolate or almond milk, or even taking the time to blend fruits into it.

Food for urbanites

Priced at RM128 for 10 packs, Oatler by MATES is a bit more expensive than the typical kopitiam meal, but RM12.80 for one healthy meal is still more affordable than dining at a healthy restaurant. 

Plus, in today’s day and age, I feel like people are willing to pay a little bit more for convenience.

Of course, Oatler isn’t the first meal replacement drink ever made. Previously, my colleague reviewed Focus Foods, another local meal replacement brand.

I have also tried other sorts of meal replacement products before, but those were strongly marketed as a weight loss solution.

Oatler works with all kinds of milk, from dairy to plant-based ones / Image Credit: MATES

According to Yeann, however, Oatler is not designed for weight loss. With that said, it can still serve as an efficient and effective product to help “shed some pounds”.

“A calorie deficit is required to lose weight and with Oatler, you’d know the exact number of calories being consumed, making it easy to track your calorie intake and achieve your body goals quicker,” Yeann claimed.

The duo continued to explain, “We call Oatler a complete food because it is a healthy meal alternative that provides complete nutrition a human body needs for a meal.”

According to MedicineNet though, replacing all regular meals with these meal replacements is not recommended, no matter how healthy they’re marketed.

If you plan to use them long-term, it’s still best to check with your general practitioner on the health implications.

Future growth

MATES is not even a year old yet, but Yeann and Vicole have big plans in mind.

“By the end of 2022, we aim to launch and kick off collaborations with at least three more select retailers to roll out offline distribution for Oatler,” they shared.

Currently, Oatler can be found in one retail location—Pharmacy Publika at Publika Shopping Centre.

Despite starting off as a solution for busy professionals, it aims to target health nuts and gymgoers too.

Hence, the two expressed interest in being present in gym and yoga studios as well as curated premium hypermarkets. Down the road, the two also want to head south to Singapore.

  • Learn more about MATES here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: MATES

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