[EXCLUSIVE] Amy Zheng Of Amazin’ Graze On Running A Health Food Business In Malaysia

Interview by Lina Esa Additional Reporting Pamela Choo Photography Courtesy of Amy Zheng

Amy Zheng’s on a mission to change the way Malaysians eat by introducing healthy snacks that you can easily include in your everyday meals!

Why did she start the brand, Amazin’ Graze with her partners? It’s no surprise that for Malaysians, it’s not easy to find tasty and affordable healthy snacks. If you’re opting for a healthy lifestyle, you’d need to choose from international brands that can definitely burn a hole in your pocket!

With Amazin’ Graze, it’s totally possible to lead a healthy lifestyle. It’s perfect for those of us leading busy lifestyles and don’t have the time to prepare our meals in advance!

The healthy snack company follows the values of Amy herself, that is to eat and live healthily. They have a huge range of healthy snacks like granolas, nuts and nut butters with a local punch! Think Malaysian flavours like pandan, gula melaka and coconut.

Read on to see what Amy shares with us!

Amy Zheng is setting her mind on changing people’s perceptions of local brands. Image: Courtesy of Amy Zheng

CLEO (C): You’ve had a lot of different jobs/careers before this, so what was the main motivation behind starting a healthy snack-food, and ultimately lifestyle company in Malaysia?

Amy Zheng (AZ): In the beginning, our main motivation was [to] give people healthier and tastier breakfast and snack options. It was hard to find snacks that was 100% natural, wholesome that were also tasty and suitable for the local palate.

As we grew, we also became motivated to create an international brand that Malaysians and Asians can be proud of. We want to change the perception that Malaysian and Asian products [are of] low quality and copies of the real deal. We want the whole world to see that Malaysian products can be high quality and innovative.

C: Tell us a little bit about your company and business.

AZ: Amazin’ Graze is a new generation of food company that is homegrown from Asia. We operate very much like a startup in the sense that we exist to disrupt the traditional packaged food industry with an aggressive growth strategy. We very much believe that the traditional packaged food space does not meet the needs of many consumers for transparent, nutritious and delicious food and the industry is also slow to change.

Innovation is at the core of who we are as we’re always thinking about how to delight our customers with new products and packaging. Our people are young, talented and fast-learners with a shared vision to empower a new generation of people with amazing real food.

Your afternoon snacks sorted with these goodies. Image: Courtesy of Amy Zheng

C: Do your personal life and values affect the way you go about branding your business?

AZ: Absolutely. The way that Amazin’ Graze operates and who it is today is definitely influenced by mine and my business partners’ values and vision for our lives. As someone who spent formative years in the social and NGO sector, I am very attuned to the social mission of the Company. I’m not just running a business, I’m using Amazin’ Graze as a vehicle to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

C: What have you learned about what it takes to be the founder of your own company?

AZ: The hardest thing about being a founder is the transition to being a CEO.  A lot of people can be founders – just start a business, but the biggest challenge is when you start hiring employees and building a team.  You are no longer able to do everything yourself and you have to start delegating. You become a mentor to your team.  Having never managed a team of people in the workplace, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and had to learn the hard way about how to build a team. It’s an incredibly satisfying journey and it’s also taught me a ton about myself.

“We want to change the perception that Malaysian and Asian products [are of] low quality and copies of the real deal. Instead, we want the whole world to see that Malaysian products can be high quality and innovative.”

C: You’re from Melbourne and you have moved to KL, have these two places inspired your company in any way?

AZ:  We were definitely inspired by the plethora of healthy food choices in Melbourne and felt that consumers in Malaysia/Asia were missing out. We are also very Asian in the sense that we try to use Asian flavours and ingredients like pandan, coconut, gula melaka where possible. I think that the confluence of both cultures has resulted in the creativity that you see today with Amazin’ Graze.

Amazin’ Graze founders, Amy Zheng, Sabrina How and Ching Yi Lee are the brains behind these yummy snacks! Image: Courtesy of Amy Zheng

C: How much or in what ways do you think your company has made in impact on the local snacking scene?

AZ: I would like to think that we have made our mark but there’s still a long way to go. For urban working professionals in KL that are health conscious, I feel that we are becoming more and more well-known in that circle.  We are definitely reaching out further and further and are in talks with distributors all across Malaysia and beyond.

C: What are the main hard/soft skills you think are most important for your line of work?

AZ: Some main hard skills for my role would be the ability to strategise, create business plans, execute digital marketing and also anaylse data to derive insights for the business. I’m also picking up food technology and nutrition knowledge which is very important for packaged food businesses.

In terms of soft skills, it would definitely be the ability to build business relationships with clients, the ability to prioritise and focus the company towards the said direction and the ability to empower your team so that they have all the tools to do their jobs well and continue to grow.

“You could say that Amazin’ Graze has integrated the best of Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. Overall, I think that the confluence of both cultures has resulted in the creativity that you see today with Amazin’ Graze.”

C: What is one big takeaway from being a business owner especially in the health market segment?

AZ: Good things take time, so be patient. You are building a business that creates value for people so do not fall into the trap of startups that exist to ramp up their valuations and exit fast. Don’t be disheartened by short-term performance issues and focus your attention on building strong foundations for the company.

Super healthy and totally delish nut butters. Image: Courtesy of Amy Zheng

C: Are there any insider tips for budding entrepreneurs or girls who aspire to be successful that you can share with us? 

AZ: Sometimes, it’s more important to find the right partner than having the perfect product.  Assuming that the product has good potential, I would recommend that you find a business partner that can soldier through this journey with you. It can be an incredibly lonely journey and doing this with someone else is absolutely essential as you can both shoulder the challenges and motivate each other to reach the next milestone.

This story was first published in the CLEO Nov/Dec 2018 issue.