Q How did Allswell start?
Jate Samathivathanachai (JS) My father founded this company. He's always been a believer in "food is medicine". In the mid-1980s, he came to Singapore (from Thailand) and worked as a general manager in a German company. He started off by importing Red Bull, the energy drink, from Thailand as he was looking for products with a health and wellness angle.
When he was doing business in Taiwan, he met our current partner, who has been making the drinks for us for 30 years now. He tried the product, and liked the mineral water source story, as well as the functional ingredients. This is not your classic traditional Chinese medicine, as we don't use herbs. But the ingredients and fruit that we use do have very well-accepted benefits for the body.
He liked the way it was brewed, with no preservatives, no colouring, no artificial sweetener and no carbonation. He thought this would do well in Singapore, so he branded it, brought it in and positioned it as a premium Asian beverage. We've been doing that since 1985, and it is our 30th year this year.
Q Why did you stick to just one product line for 30 years?
JS We've brought in a ton of flavours throughout the years. Some stick, some don't. We've always been trying to innovate from a flavour standpoint. The first flavour we brought in was water chestnut and sugar cane, and that's still our leading product, the second one was starfruit, and there were a couple in between and subsequently plum and longan/red date. In May, we launched golden pear and aloe vera. Most of them are traditional flavours. But as you know, everyone is marketing to the millenials these days, so we brought in something fresher, more fun and more exciting. We felt that golden pear and aloe vera will be more contemporary.
We also brought in Mr Lam (Pin Woon) to help with product development.
Q What have you done in the area of product development since joining Allswell three years ago?
Lam Pin Woon (LPW) This was like a homecoming for me. Twenty years ago, I'd spent a short stint at Allswell. In fact, I was the one who worked on selling to Malaysia at that time. As Jate said, over the years, we have added or subtracted flavours based on consumer needs and wants.
But we have plans to embark on a much bigger-scale new product development down the road. The reason we haven't done so for the past one to two years is that we wanted to focus more on our rebranding exercise.
With the support of Spring Singapore, we had spent 11/2 years rebranding ourselves, not just the new label and the new flavour, but also how we position ourselves, and how we communicate with the consumers. Previously, the label just said: "This is a drink." Consumers didn't know what benefits the product might have. Now, they can see the product story on the label. If you survey most Asian drinks, the packaging is just like: "Here's the drink." Or: "Here's a picture of what's in the drink."
Q After this rebranding exercise, what are your plans?
LPW We are on the pilot innovation programme with Spring Singapore. And Jate recently made a trip to Germany with Spring Singapore and IE Singapore to see what's the global trend and the new emerging market opportunities.
JS We have always put the emphasis on health and functionality. I went to a huge global food and beverage fair in Germany - which is held every two years - to validate some of our hypotheses.
We are coming up with new sub-brands, so there's a possibility of introducing these new ingredients and positioning them differently as more science-based.
We don't only want to do beverage, we've tried to do some healthy snack products. It's a little different for us; we're still learning. But it will still be products with the health angle. We're very interested in vegetable protein-type snacks - anything to do with fruit and vegetables. Parents today are very aware that children need fibre, minerals and vitamins, but most kids don't like vegetables. So we have to find creative ways of getting vegetables into their bodies. We're exploring the snacks space pretty closely.
LPW Most of the production processes for these snacks are in Europe, so we are looking into localising the processes here, so that eventually the products can be priced in a more affordable range.
Q Are you selling in other markets, outside of Singapore?
JS We sell mainly in Singapore and Brunei. We also export a small quantity to Cambodia and Vietnam. We used to sell in Malaysia, but not any more. Our biggest challenge is that our drinks are 100 per cent made in Taiwan, so they are not duty-free in Asean, under the rules of origin requirement.
So we're now exploring making our products in Johor Baru. We could buy the essence or extract of the drinks from our partner in Taiwan and bottle them in Malaysia. If our products are not duty-free, it'd be a challenge for the consumers in the region to pay the kind of prices just for beverages.
LPW Our overseas expansion plans will be two-pronged. First, to bring manufacturing closer to home; and second, to do consumer research in each of the regional markets to understand their needs and preferences.
The water chestnut flavour is our top seller in Singapore. But perhaps the starfruit flavour is more popular in other countries. We don't know for sure. For now, the South-east Asia market is our focus.