From a very young age, I knew I wanted to do business. I did not care what it would be, it just had to be business,” says Farah Eussof Leow, founder of ready-to-eat (RTE) enterprise Fawz Sambals. After 17 years in the interior design and furnishing industry, she indeed has experience in the business world.
In 2018, she decided to venture into the RTE market. “I found that the interior design and furnishing industry was becoming saturated. As I was looking for alternative businesses, I saw the potential in RTE products.”
While Farah does not intend to keep her product offerings at three — Sambal Kurau, Crispy Chilli Garlic and Crispy Chilli Garlic Ikan Bilis — she started with sambal kurau because it is something she is great at making.
“The recipe has been in my family for a long time, but the air tangan (cooking) of each person is different. My mum’s sambal tastes different from my aunt’s and mine obviously has its own appeal as well.”
In order to commercialise the sambal, Farah improvised the recipe to suit the local palate. “Originally, sambal kurau contains a lot of spices such as cardamom, clove and cumin, but not many people like it when it’s too flavourful. We have gone through multiple modifications to find the flavour balance that can suit everyone’s taste buds.”
At the beginning, she had to cook the spicy condiments three times a day in her own kitchen. “I could make five jars of sambal in one round, which took me three hours to finish. On average, I could only make 20 bottles a day.”
When Farah began getting more orders from friends and relatives, she was struck by the thought of expanding the business. After more than a year, she found a chef who had a centralised kitchen in Taman Industri Semenyih, Selangor, and a halal certification.
When researching the market, she discovered that not many businesses selling sambal paste had halal certification. “As a Muslim and bumiputera, getting it was my goal and working with the chef opened the door for my business to achieve something that is quite hard for small set-ups. To get the certification, we sent the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) our recipes, ingredients used and samples, and they paid a visit to the kitchen to see whether we fulfilled their requirements. There were so many things we had to do but I was happy to learn all that.”
Farah now has eight trained assistants in the centralised kitchen to help her produce up to 6,000 bottles of the three signature products on a weekly basis. Another four employees are in charge of administrative work.
Crispy Chilli Garlic is made with vegetarians in mind. “The main star is, of course, garlic. While I was promoting this product, people asked if I could create something for non-vegetarians. So, I included low-fat, low-calorie ikan bilis mata biru (Japanese whitebait) in my next product, Crispy Chilli Garlic Ikan Bilis. As for Sambal Kurau, we use premium dried kurau. We shred and chop it so you will find different sizes of kurau in the sambal.”
Fawz Sambals’ offerings can be eaten with plain rice, bread or noodles, or used as seasoning in dishes. “My idea is to prepare makanan that are easy and convenient but, at the same time, healthy. We use less oil and sugar — the sweetness comes from the shallots. We use Himalayan salt instead of regular salt and no preservatives are added. The sambal can be stored at room temperature and has a shelf life of two years.”
The R&D process to ensure the chilli-based products have a long shelf life was very time-consuming. “We have small batches of sambal that we store in the fridge and outside to compare the taste under different temperatures. We also sample them after three to six months to check if they are still edible and whether the taste has been preserved. That’s why it takes us at least six months to come up with one product.”
Crispy garlic (for customers who do not fancy spice) and crispy garlic with virgin olive oil is among the products in the pipeline.
Although it takes ages for the company to bring a product to market, that in turn opens up an opportunity for Farah to look at exports. “There is demand for ready-to-eat foods, not just in Malaysia, but also abroad. We have students, travellers and tourists. As the shelf life is long, we can afford to do shipments to other countries. We are looking to distribute our products in Brunei, Singapore, Jakarta, Riyadh and Dubai.”
Besides Shopee and Fawz Sambals’ website, the products are available at Petronas Mesra at Jalan Maarof and Jalan Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, Santan Air Asia Mid Valley, and various cafes in Damansara Heights. With the production capacity she currently has, Farah is looking to work with independent and small retailers.
The RTE enterprise has gone through multiple brandings. When it first started, Farah named the business after herself. However, when she employed a marketing team, she was advised to come up with a more marketable name. “They said a generic name was more suitable if I wanted to venture into retail. Fawz, pronounced as faz, rhymes with fast food. But more than that, the reason it is spelled that way is because fawz is derived from an Arabic word that means victory or success.”
This article first appeared on May 16, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.