A fermented tea consumed for its health benefits known as kombucha is sweeping the world, leading to the mushrooming of homemade, artisanal brands. One local entrepreneur, along with his co-founders, takes it to a whole new level by introducing their own to upscale supermarkets, fitness centres, co-working spaces and delivery.
Founder Joseph Poh describes his journey creating WonderBrew from signing up for a workshop to certified halal and tells us of his future plans.
You grew up in a family business environment and became the first franchisee of the renowned Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart (HBCT) brand in Malaysia. Did it prepare you for the journey as a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) entrepreneur?
Yes and no. Taking the HBCT franchise was actually my first venture into the local F&B business. Although I have experience as a franchise manager in the F&B industry, it was still my first time running a business by myself and I have learnt tremendously from this business experience. From a business perspective, it surely gave me an immense exposure in running a business in areas such as management, operations, marketing, human resource, accounting, etc. I am extremely thankful for that experience that enabled me to hone my business acumen. I became more sensitive and understanding towards the local market and business environment. I enjoy keeping myself abreast of the latest development and trend so that I can help my business to stay relevant.
Frankly, I had no experience in FMCG but I didn’t let it deter me from pursuing a great business opportunity in kombucha. After much research and market survey of my own, my gut feeling and business sense felt so right about it being potentially big in Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region, just like how kombucha has grown into a multi-billion global industry today and become a common beverage in the West. I am an opportunist and when I feel strongly about an opportunity backed by hard facts, I just delve into it.
Prior to establishing WonderBrew, you signed up for a kombucha-brewing workshop. At that point, did you already harbour the ambition to create your own brand?
I started as a consumer and a die-hard fan wanting to learn more about kombucha. It was a timely incident where I met my co-founder Boon, who was the conductor of the kombucha-making workshop and we clicked instantly. At that time, he had over seven years of kombucha-making experience under his belt and is very knowledgeable about it. The idea of creating a local kombucha brand as a business was still quite vague at the time of signing up and it only became more certain after the workshop. I believe in working with great people and winning as a team. Hence, Boon definitely fits into the picture of someone with whom I can create a great local kombucha brand.
There are a number of homemade kombucha purveyors out there. What was the impetus for you becoming more widely available? What makes your products different from theirs?
One of the reasons why WonderBrew even existed in the first place is to make kombucha accessible to the masses. In fact, WonderBrew is created based on three pain points identified in the local kombucha market so that we can create kombucha that is 1) value for money, 2) great tasting and 3) accessible to the masses. We are motivated to make kombucha more widely accessible because we are a strong believer in kombucha as a healthy beverage that has great health benefits for consumers over the long run. Also, our brand mission is really to empower people to become a healthier, happier and better version of themselves.
WonderBrew is truly a Malaysian brand and a local champion. Despite kombucha being popularised in the West with internationalised flavours, our recipes are inspired locally with many of our flavours using local fruits such as markisa, lemongrass and pomelo, just to name a few. Many of our ingredients are sourced locally from organic farms to support local farmers. We use only the best ingredients to make our kombucha, no compromise. We uphold ourselves to the highest standard at all time and this has helped us to become the first local brand to be certified halal by Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM). WonderBrew is also very much about being sustainable and caring for the environment as evident in our bottle recycling programme and waste composting initiative to reduce carbon footprints.
WonderBrew is certified halal. Can you tell us what was the process of applying and receiving the certification like?
It is definitely a long and arduous process that came to fruition in December 2019 and we are very proud of it. It all started by preparing the necessary information, documents and certifications required for submission. We also had to ensure full compliance with the local Islamic law for our production, ingredients, manpower, etc. We looked into the whole process of our production chain from sourcing ingredients to processing them, cooking tea to fermenting kombucha, bottling to delivering as well to ensure we are keeping a great standard in accordance to the halal rules. We are really grateful to be certified halal as a young brand in Malaysia and this surely represents the type of product quality we are bringing to Malaysians.
What is your plan for WonderBrew? Where do you intend to grow?
We are just really grateful to have come so far with great support from our beloved customers over the last two years since inception. Moving forward, we will still be very focused in making great tasting kombucha with affordable pricing and accessibility to the Malaysian public. We have hit 100 locations selling our products in 2019. Since then, we have been focusing on growing our e-commerce to extend our product reach. This is especially so since the beginning of the MCO when we saw a surge in demand for our products online. It is definitely in our great interest to ride on the momentum and expand our online presence.
To keep the brand exciting and relevant, we have new local flavours in the pipeline which enable us to launch each year. For instance, we just launched a new local flavour featuring the legendary Tambun pomelo from Ipoh which we have been receiving an overwhelming response from our customers. Social media marketing involving key opinion leaders (KOLs) and word of mouth from our followers remains critical to us and shall continue to be so. Also, we are actively seeking partners and brands with similar values to us to work together as well.
As demand for our products grows, we strongly believe in maintaining a high standard and safety for our products. We have plans to relocate to a larger production facility and are looking to achieve more certifications such as GMP and HACCP for productions.
Lastly, we are also working on making our products export-ready to prepare for overseas expansion in the near future.
WonderBrew recently embarked on a project with Dignity For Children Foundation. What is the motivation behind it?
With WonderBrew, we hope to create more goodness in this world. We really admire what Dignity For Children Foundation, a social enterprise, is doing in empowering underprivileged children to be world changers through exceptional transformative education. Hence, we decided to partner with them via Sew x Dignity, an arm under Dignity where refugees are trained to develop employability skills like sewing, graphic design, coding and urban gardening. Specifically, we are working together to create great looking reusable masks to be sold on our website. Through this initiative, we hope to enhance awareness of the refugee in Malaysia as well as contribute to their charitable causes by donating 50% of sales to their foundation. Also, we hope to make wearing masks more sustainable (reusable masks), fun and fashionable for the customers.