Photo: F&B workers making ready meals at Muslim Kitchen. Photo supplied by Muslim Kitchen

Halal Industry

Instagram, deliveries and paratha fit for a Queen: 3 Malaysian food SMEs cheer unexpected success amid COVID-19 lockdown


KUALA LUMPUR - When Malaysia went into lockdown on March 18, Amir Malik predicted the move would be “devastating” for his business. Now, just over a month later, he is “seeing some hope” with a new business model.

The general manager of food operator DTandoor had been staring at half a million ringgit in immediate lost bookings when most Malaysians were ordered indoors. Under its model of catering for weddings, exhibitions and government events, there was no way DTandoor could continue trading under the government’s new movement restrictions.

“Immediately, we sat down with our team to work out what to do,” Amir told Salaam Gateway this week.

“We realised people are spending more time on their phones and using social media, and saw that doing social media marketing would be our only way out. We never had time to think about it before.”

In a last-ditch attempt to save the business, Amir hired an advertising agency to put D’Tandoor on social media for the first time and woo influencers by sending them food samples.

At the same time, the company opened up a delivery service for orders from its central kitchen in Petaling Jaya across the Klang Valley conurbation.

Now with nearly 2,700 Instagram followers, and consistent orders for set meal menus and à la carte dishes, the business has been ticking over to the point that D’Tandoor has been able to pay its 70 staff in full for both March and April, and is looking forward to Ramadan with a positive cashflow.

“I would say the virus has given us a new understanding of our business and the way we operate,” said Amir.

“Moving into the delivery business is the best model for cashflow because if you make 5,000 ringgit in cash every day, its better than making 500,000 from one event and waiting a few months for the money. It’s only with cash flow that you can sustain a business in this climate.”

The success of this repurposing has allowed D’Tandoor to hire thee new delivery drivers on full salaries.

As Malaysians welcome Ramadan on Friday, D’Tandoor is taking a three-pronged approach by continuing its delivery service and adding two new initiatives targeting both commercial and charity.

“We are targeting two markets. The first is for people who want to treat their family and friends to a lavish iftar spread. The second is to cater for the homeless, old folks homes and orphans,” said general manager Amir. 

Under the latter “paying forward” package, D’Tandoor will subsidise Iftar meals in sets of 10 for 100 ringgit. The delivery driver will send photographs of the recipients to customers as they break their fast.

“Ramadan is the month of charity, but this year it will be very limited for people to provide Iftar meals. People might have previously taken orphans or old people out for dinners or to break fast but they can’t do that now,” Amir added.

D’Tandoor was among the small businesses Salaam Gateway spoke to on March 20, two days after the government effectively forced most Malaysians into home quarantine.

INSTAGRAM, WHATSAPP AND ROYAL ENDORSEMENT

Another, Tisha’s Food, has also been forced to change its approach by embracing social media to market its frozen baked goods. Chief executive Shamsul Shah Sulaiman said the move had helped deliver a fivefold bump in business since before movement restrictions came into effect.

“We now have to put customers in a queue so we can attend to everyone. That is very positive for us during this crisis,” he told Salaam Gateway.

Before the coronavirus crisis, half of the company’s sales came through around 250 agents who market directly to households. A month ago, when these agents were forced into lockdown, Shamsul put the company’s chances of survival through supermarket sales alone at fifty-fifty.

Since then Shamsul’s sales force has turned to WhatsApp to keep in touch with their networks. Tisha’s has also charged into social media marketing and sales in an effort helped by two massive endorsements, from celebrity fashion designer Rizalman Ibrahim and even Malaysia’s queen.

Queen Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah binti Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, a well-known gourmet, posted a picture of Tisha’s roti paratha along with a caption in Malay saying “relief for a hungry tummy”. The post has since been liked by nearly 11,000 of the consort’s 432,000 followers.

“The Instagram conversion rate is very high compared to food delivery platforms like Grab. People have been changing the way they buy things,” said Shamsul.

“Our share of non-retail sales has shot up from 50 before the pandemic to 70% now. We believe this new normal will continue after this is all over. I think our home dealers will carry on the way they are doing things now.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

terima kasih kepada @tishasfood ... terima kasih daun keladi , lain kali hantar lagi ok .......

A post shared by SPB Raja Permaisuri Agong (@airtangan_tunkuazizah) on Apr 20, 2020 at 5:18am PDT

PRESSURE ON DISRUPTED SUPPLY CHAIN

This success, however, has put pressure on ingredient supplies, with flour orders jumping from a regular 13 tons to 30 in the last month.

“We need to mobilise on raw materials like flour because our supplier cannot keep up with demand from us, and also we cannot get enough plastics and cartons for our packaging. But it is a blessing and we are of course very happy.”

For Ramadan, Tisha’s will start delivering frozen gift packages for sahoor and iftar.

READY MEALS BOOM

The third small business owner questioned by Salaam Gateway a month ago, Muslim Kitchen, had predicted that retail orders for its Thalia ready-meals brand would grow for the duration of the lockdown, while its export sales would maintain.

This has come to pass, though chief executive Mustafa Kamal Wathooth is now concerned that consumers may become more inclined to cook more fresh food at home than continue buying large amounts of frozen food.

“Our export business has been quite good and there has been an increase in orders from supermarkets. Since the lockdown started last month, the buying power of people appears to have been very high,” Mustafa Kamal told Salaam Gateway.

“Money in the pocket is getting less and less so we have to watch out for people being more careful with their spending and moving towards more basic food products.”

Still, Muslim Kitchen has been struggling to keep up with orders due to a temporary shortage of staff.

“We are happy in terms of orders, yes, but in terms of trying to maintain production, this is where we are having a bit of difficulty catching up. Weve had to decline some business,” he added.

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])

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Richard Whitehead