Coming from a family that loves being in the kitchen, sisters Ryea and Lekha’s fondest memories often involve food in one form or another.
“Our parents always valued using whole foods and the importance of home-cooked meals,” Ryea says.
So when they had their own kids, they knew they wanted to feed them organic foods with no artificial flavors or preservatives.
This became a necessity as Ryea’s son was asthmatic at the time and her daughter suffered from eczema.
Although organic products such as vegetables, fruits, grains and baby food are readily available, Ryea and Lekha realized that it was difficult to find the average pre-sliced bread that was healthy.
So they got into organic bread making themselves, doing weekend projects with their kids, an activity that kept the younger ones busy too.
This experience ultimately served as the basis for Bakery and organic store Fresco Grano (Fresco Grano) in 2015, with a mission to provide others with access to affordable organic baked goods.
The team began by producing and selling wheat bread, and slowly ventured into offering gluten-free options as they noticed a high demand for this product.
Over time, Fresco Grano branched out into producing other breakfast options and healthy snacks such as muffins, granola and cookies.
A specialty bakery that meets customer needs
Before creating Fresco Grano, Ryea worked as an accountant, having gained experience in multinational and medium-sized companies for around 10 years.
Ryea now looks after Fresco Grano full-time, bringing all of her skills and experience from her years in professional accounting to the business.
So, Ryea is in charge of the financial and operational side of things, while Lekha manages their social media platforms, website, and customer relations.
“Some of the design, marketing and other miscellaneous work that is ad hoc in nature is outsourced,” Ryea explained.
All baking and packaging takes place at their bakery in Sungai Buloh, with operations run by a small but tight-knit team of seven in-house staff, made up of three bakers and two delivery people, in addition to Ryea and Lekha themselves.
Initially, a lot of research went into developing gluten-free recipes. The team also wanted to create recipes that could be nut-free or vegan if necessary.
“Some customers even asked for sugar-free options, so we worked on creating products that could meet those needs, hence our reputation as a specialty bakery,” Ryea said.
During the early stages of Fresco Grano, the flavor combinations produced came from the likes of families and friends.
As the team progressed and began to gain more customers, they then began to focus on customer tastes and preferences.
One of their favorite methods of getting feedback is by creating social media polls where they ask their followers to choose between two flavors. The highest vote would be what Fresco Grano ultimately formulates an initial recipe for.
“It can take as little as a few weeks to a few months to finally release the flavor to our customers, as we need to make sure the recipe works as well as research its shelf life and storage options,” Ryea said.
Competition with big brands
One of the biggest challenges Fresco Grano faced was entering a market dominated by big brands, those that were already known.
“The main topic was that most people were so used to eating bread that had a certain taste and texture, which was generally softer and lighter than our bread,” Ryea added.
She went on to explain that it was either the very soft commercial bread or the much harder and crispier unsliced bread at the time.
Therefore, the challenge was to find something in between, while maintaining the recipe without additives or preservatives.
Eventually, the team was able to settle on their current unique Fresco Grano recipe. They even managed to penetrate mainstream grocery stores that were looking for organic and healthy alternatives to be part of their range.
Currently, Fresco Grano bread is available at select Ben’s Independent Grocer, Jaya Grocer and Village Grocer outlets. They are also available in some specialized organic shops, and for home delivery.
“We believe that the fact that we are available in these stores located in all major areas of the Klang Valley is already helping us create brand awareness,” Ryea said.
Stick to the Basics
Ensuring they stick to their mission of creating quality baked goods without the use of improvers, additives and preservatives is how Ryea and Lekha see Fresco Grano achieving longevity. .
Without forgetting to maintain strict quality control by continuing to produce in small series.
Going forward, the siblings hope to attend more events like they did before the pandemic.
These include attending farmers markets, collaborating with fitness and health programs, and organizing fun activities in stores.
They shared that they would like to organize or participate in workshops on health and well-being, because cultivating a healthy and conscious diet has been their goal since they launched Fresco Grano.
The duo also hope to soon make their products available in other states beyond the Klang Valley.
- Learn more about Fresco Grano here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Fresco Grano