Main Market listed Farm Fresh founders give a candid interview to BusinessToday on their growth story from a cushy desk job to open fields strewn with fine looking dairy cows.
It was a blazing hot Monday afternoon when Loi Tuan Ee’s car arrived at the Farm Fresh’s latest educational farm cum recreational park located at Farm Fresh UPM (Ladang 16). It is a place equipped with cool al-fresco cafes with well-manicured landscape and prettily adorned with its signature red barns! This place sure looks exactly like the farm and alfresco dining café in Australia. Mr Loi looked relaxed in his usual casually- dressed manner i.e. T-shirt and a jeans. He was taking firm steps walking towards the café. He was immediately greeted by the workers at the site.
It was a day for Hari Raya Aidilfitri shooting session, BusinessToday had the opportunity to interview both Loi Tuan Ee, the managing director and Azmi Zainal, chief operating officer of Farm Fresh. This writer sat with the two main persons of the company in a hyped and relaxing al-fresco café, just opposite of the cattle barn. Both of them were unassuming, friendly, very hands-on on their business, sitting with me and chatting away their experiences and aspirations.
As the spokesperson of the Malaysian dairy industry, his experience tells the story of the high-quality dairy industry and the goal of regional expansion of Malaysian dairy products.
The initial public offering (IPO) of Farm Fresh on the Main Board marked a significant milestone for Loi and Azmi.
Was IPO always the plan from day one and their journey?
“IPO listing was not in the back of my mind when I started this business. I had worked at a corporate job for 20 years in the food packaging industry, rising to senior positions. I was thriving in this job. At one point, I was earning around RM500,000 a year. It was during my years in the corporate world that I got acquainted with Azmi. I left the company a few years earlier and then Azmi left too.”
“I wanted to come out to do something that is more sustainable, resilient, and non-cyclical. And That’s one of the reasons why I opted for agriculture, to produce food products. I decided to leave the job to open a dairy farm.”
“I eventually started rearing dairy goats. But my solidarity towards farmers coupled with the realization of the market opportunity within the dairy industry, that was the point when I decided focus solely on the cattle dairy industry in 2008.”
Breaking the Grip of Foreign Brands
Malaysia has a population of 32 million and its diary market had been dominated by foreign brands previously. It would be interesting to note however Farm Fresh has finally broken this grip. We see local dairy brands began to develop. At the time of writing, Farm Fresh gets the lion’s share of fresh milk products.
“When we started our dairy business, both Azmi (the Chief Operating Officer) and I became the promoter at the supermarkets. We knew our dairy made the cut when the customers kept coming back to us and told us how good our milk was. We even received comments like “this milk tastes like what we had in Australia”, “Your milk reminds me of the milk I had in Japan.”’
“Yes, those are the signals that we got, and we knew from that day we were on the right track.”
“Eventually, this business took off based on mouth-to-mouth recommendations. Customers recommended the fresh milk to their siblings, friends, and relatives.” As he was saying this, he turned to Azmi and Azmi nodded in agreement. Both their facial expressions clearly conveyed their stories of perseverance, determination, endurance on hardship and most importantly, their sense of satisfaction of finally making it.
“In our early days, we didn’t spend on advertisement due to financial constraints. All we had was a group of very loyal customers who support our products and promote our products to their respective circles.”
The full interview will be featured in the printed magazine of BusinessToday April Edition