Subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on news you need to know.
KUALA LUMPUR, May 25 — When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. We always find a way.
There’s no better illustration of this than the number of new businesses that pop up during the movement control order (MCO).
Many of these fledgling businesses are in the food and beverage (F&B) sector. Lower barrier to entry and less intimidating startup costs, perhaps.
One such startup is Jumble Hummus founded by MK (Mun Kiat) Wong, 38, and his wife Sian Pek Yin (fondly known as Sean), 39.
What is hummus, for the uninitiated? A velvety dip of Middle Eastern origin, hummus is typically made from chickpeas that are blended with tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Good quality olive oil and a dash of fiery paprika are often added too.
The humble hummus looks so simple, yet can be so comforting in trying times. A scoop of this creamy spread eaten with a lightly toasted flatbread or crisp crackers, and we are consoled. Tomorrow will be a better day.
That’s certainly what the couple behind Jumble believes. They had both majored in Multimedia Communication Design; Wong subsequently worked as visual effects artist whilst Sean was in IT. A far cry from their newbie food purveyor status.
Wong recalls, “Our working lifestyle was mainly sitting in front of the computer. I had always wanted to run my own business. I was inspired by my dad’s entrepreneurial spirit and wished to follow in his footsteps.”
In 2014, Wong and his business partner started a post production studio business, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream. But dreams aren’t easy to sustain, particularly when the Covid-19 crisis hit last year.
“The current pandemic is quite a challenge for the media and advertising industry,” Wong shares. “During this down time, Sean and I thought of selling healthy nutritious food as we had always wanted to try something different from our line of work.”
In the beginning, the couple planned to sell wraps, poké bowls and hummus. Lacking the experience of running a restaurant or café, they decided against a full-on brick-and-mortar business for the time being, citing the financial risk.
Instead, they opted for an online, home-based business approach. Wong explains, “During the MCO 1.0 we were also in the midst of a diet programme. Since we’re gonna cook our own healthy meals anyway, why not try selling it?”
Given both husband and wife come from creative backgrounds, it’s inevitable that they would want to develop their own brand, particularly one which could deliver meaning at multiple levels.
Wong says, “We wanted a name which plays with the concept of ‘a bundle of nutrition within a meal’.”
After researching local brands — not to mention diligently poring over their thesaurus for hours — they discovered the name Jumble was not taken yet. Wong observes, “The word ‘jumble’ kind of rhymes with 健饱 (Jiànbǎo). It means ‘healthy and filing’ which is the direction we want our products to take.”
Before they began selling their hummus, they conducted food testing with friends and family. Faced with the challenge of making and delivering hot wraps and poké bowls to customers, they decided to drop those and zero in on hummus instead.
Rather than too many products, which would have stretched their resources thin as well as diluted their brand message, they felt a single product would make more sense.
“By focusing on hummus, this allows us to manage the flow of daily work whilst still exploring running a food business,” Wong explains.
“We remember clearly that before the pandemic, there weren’t much pre-packed hummus available in the local grocers. After the first lockdown, we noticed there’s imported hummus brands from Australia. This is a good sign because it means customers have become more aware of this nutritious dip.”
To develop their recipes, they poured over various healthy meal recipe websites and YouTube tutorials. Wong says, “There was quite a bit of trial and error. Our first recipe was the classic hummus, which contains chickpeas, olive oil, garlic and tahini. We source good quality dry raw chickpeas locally and soak them for at least 10-12 hours.”
The chickpeas then go through various processes: boiling, which makes removing the chickpea skins easier, and lastly blending to ensure a smooth final product.
Wong adds, “We also found that using the chickpea broth to blend is one of the main secrets that makes the hummus delicious. Also, we only use extra virgin olive oil to make our hummus.”
Besides their signature Classic flavour, Jumble Hummus also offers hummus in Vegan Cheese, Avocado and Sun-Dried Tomato flavours. Possibly the most unusual offering is their Minced Australian Beef Hummus, which may delight more meat-forward customers leery of plant-friendly options.
Their Vegan Cheese is entirely dairy-free despite the “cheese” in its name. Wong clarifies, “It is not actually dairy cheese but made out of nutritional yeast. We are aiming for a vegan-friendly direction except for the beef version, which has minced beef topping on top of the classic hummus.”
Apparently the two most popular hummus flavours are the Avocado and the Vegan Cheese. As they say, the proof is in the pudding (or hummus, as it were). The best test is in the taste and how consumers respond. By this metric, at least, the couple has much to be excited about.
Wong shares, “We are so moved by feedback that we managed to reproduce the taste that our customers had missed when they were abroad such as Australia and London. To be compared to restaurant standards is such an honour.”
Hummus remains a very niche market, at least in this part of the world. Wong agrees, but sees a potentially growing market: “Yes, it’s not a common go-to kind of food. But seeing how grocers are bringing in such products, in time more people will become aware of it. We hope our products can reach a wider audience, or even one day see them on the shelves in our local grocers!”