When her daughter started eating solid foods, stay-at-home mom Lily Loh worried that her daughter was picky eaters and not gaining enough weight.
She recounted the times when her mother used to ikan bilis (anchovies) powder when she was younger. She started reading about the nutritional value of ikan bilisand learned that they are a good source of calcium and good for children’s intake.
She kept on trying ikan bilis powder available in the market. Although she tried many different brands, she felt that none could match what her mother had made before.
Those on the market were not “pure” ikan bilis powder, and is “not suitable for babies as young as six months old”, the 38-year-old said.
As such, she decided to create her own version and eventually built a business called Lilo, which is a pun on her name.
Today, the thriving business has a full-fledged Singapore Food Authority (SFA)-licensed factory, which supplies over 50 retail outlets across the island, including NTUC Finest, Mothercare and Motherswork.
Make your own food powders from scratch
With Lilo, Lily aims to empower families to eat well by allowing them to cook healthy, yet convenient, home-cooked meals.
Before officially launching the business, the RMIT University economics and finance graduate was experimenting in her home kitchen to create her own ikan bilis sprinkle scratch and cook with it to feed her daughter.
“I felt happy that my (daughter) was eating better and healthier with the ikan bilis powder that I made and gave some to my friends too,” she said.
It became so popular among her friends that word quickly started to spread, and it was then that Lily realized she could start a business out of her new hobby.
According to Lily, what sets Lilo apart from other food powders on the market is its taste.
Lilo is a 100% natural food powder that is made with premium ingredients, and no preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or added salt. Due to its low sodium content, it is suitable for all ages, from babies to adults.
“We have also carried out appropriate testing on the nutrition information panel as well as shelf life testing to ensure food safety,” she added.
It is therefore not surprising that his ikan bilis the powder has become Lilo’s top-selling product. It has also expanded its product line to include other flavors such as whitebait, scallop, mushroom, and kombu, as well as refill formulations.
Innovation in terms of production growth and e-commerce
As their business grew, they were greeted with an overwhelming response from customers. Lily said when they faced “production cap issues” she knew they had to increase production and invest in a factory to better cope with the huge demand.
“Setting up a factory in Singapore has allowed us to scale up and monitor (our) food production at the same time, ensuring food quality and safety at home,” she added.
Lily had started the home-based business with an initial investment of S$500 to procure equipment and inventory, then pumped in another six-figure sum for her factory plans. Despite this considerable investment, Lilo managed to break even in just six months.
Lily also expressed her gratitude to the government grants that helped subsidize the costs. For example, it used the Productivity Solutions Grant to procure better machinery and technology to improve factory productivity and efficiency.
It has also capitalized on grants to help the company expand its workforce and restructure job areas following the upskilling of employees.
Lily shared that Lilo’s biggest stream of income came from baby fairs, and with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic shutting down and limiting physical events, Lilo’s income had inevitably dropped.
Instead of taking the lead, Lilo took the lead and decided to expand its online presence through partnerships and e-commerce grants.
“We have successfully reached overseas consumers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, USA, Germany and UK. We (also) recently stocked Lilo in Lucky supermarkets in Cambodia.
Thanks to these efforts, Lilo achieved 61% year-over-year revenue growth despite the pandemic. Its international business has also seen strong growth, with almost 30% of its e-commerce revenue coming from overseas customers.
Lilo is now an award-winning brand
Looking back on her journey so far, Lily admitted it’s been a “tough struggle” as she tries to juggle business and production with a toddler in tow.
“It’s a constant struggle for new moms like me trying to balance work and family,” she lamented.
In the future, she hopes to take Lilo to greater heights and reach out to more people to encourage healthy food choices. After all, she sees food as a means to health.
When it comes to formulating a business strategy, she believes it all comes down to an honest heart to produce a good product that can win over consumers.
“For Lilo, brand awareness has always been word of mouth. The good quality of the food speaks for itself,” she said, adding that customers can tell the difference once they taste it for themselves.
As a testament to the quality of its products, Lilo was awarded the “Best Nutritious Food Seasoning Powders” award by Parents World.
Lilo is also one of 64 other brands listed as a “Made With Passion” product, a national initiative that showcases and celebrates local lifestyle brands and the passion behind them.
Summarizing the interview, Lily said she strives to provide only the best to her clients and believes there are no shortcuts to building a successful business – “just pure kindness made with passion”.
Buy Lilo’s high-quality natural food powders on the VP label now:
Featured image credit: Lilo