When her daughter started eating solids, stay-at-home mum Lily Loh, was concerned about her daughter being a fussy eater and not gaining enough weight.
She recounted the times when her mum would make ikan bilis (anchovies) powder when she was younger. She started reading up on the nutritional value of ikan bilis, and learnt that they are a good source of calcium and good for children’s intake.
She went on to try out ikan bilis powder that’s available in the market. Despite trying many different brands, she felt that none could match up to what her mum used to make.
The ones in the market weren’t “pure” ikan bilis powder, and not “suitable for babies as young as six months,” said the 38-year-old.
As such, she decided to make her own version and eventually built a business out of it called Lilo, which is a wordplay on her name.
Today, the thriving business has a full-fledged factory licensed by the Singapore Food Authority (SFA), which supplies to over 50 retail stores islandwide, including NTUC Finest, Mothercare and Motherswork.
Making her own food powders from scratch
With Lilo, Lily aims to empower families to eat right by letting them whip up healthy, yet convenient, home-cooked meals.
Before formally launching the business, the economics and finance graduate from RMIT University would experiment in her home kitchen to create her own ikan bilis powder from scratch and cook meals with it to feed to her daughter.
“I felt happy that my (daughter) is eating better and healthier with the ikan bilis powder I made and gifted some to my friends to too,” she said.
It became so popular among her friends that words soon started to spread, and that’s when Lily realised that she could build a business out of her newfound hobby.
According to Lily, what makes Lilo stand out from other existing food powders in the market is its taste.
Lilo is a 100 per cent natural food powder that is made with premium ingredients, and without any preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or salt added. Due to its low sodium content, it is suitable for all ages — from babies to adults.
“We also did proper nutritional information panel testing and also shelf-life testing to ensure food safety,” she added.
It comes as no surprise then that its ikan bilis powder has now become the best-selling product at Lilo. It has also expanded its product range to include other flavours such as white bait, scallop, mushroom and kombu, as well as refill pack formulations.
Innovation in terms of production and e-commerce growth
As their business grew, they were met with overwhelming response from customers. Lily said that when they were faced with “production cap problems”, she knew they had to expand the production and invest in a factory to better cope with the huge demand.
“Setting up a factory in Singapore allowed us to scale up and monitor (our) food production at the same time, ensuring food quality and safety at home ground,” she added.
Lily had started up the home-based business with an initial investment of S$500 to procure equipment and stocks, and subsequently pumped in another six-figure sum for its factory plans. Despite this hefty investment, Lilo managed to break even in just six months.
Lily also expressed her gratitude towards government grants that helped subsidise the costs. For instance, she made use of the Productivity Solutions Grant to procure better machineries and technology to improve the factory’s productivity and efficiency.
She also capitalised on grants to help the company expand its manpower and restructure job scopes following up-skilling of employees.
Lily shared that Lilo’s biggest stream of income derived from baby fairs, and with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic halting and restricting physical events, Lilo’s revenue had inevitably taken a huge dip.
Instead of taking a backseat, Lilo took the lead and decided to expand its online presence through e-commerce partnerships and grants.
“We managed to reach out to overseas consumers in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, United States, Germany and United Kingdom. We (also) recently stock Lilo at Cambodia’s Lucky Supermarkets.”
Through these efforts, Lilo has seen 61 per cent revenue growth year-on-year despite the pandemic. Its international business also witnessed strong growth, with nearly 30 per cent of its e-commerce revenue hailing from overseas customers.
Lilo is now an award-winning brand
Looking back at her journey thus far, Lily admitted that it has been a “tough struggle” as she tries to juggle business and production with a toddler in tow.
“It’s a constant struggle for new mummies like me to try and balance work and family,” she lamented.
Moving forward, she hopes that she will be able to bring Lilo to greater heights and reach out to more people to encourage healthy food choices. After all, she sees food as a means of healthcare.
When it comes to formulating a business strategy, she believes that it all boils down to an honest heart to produce good product that is able to win over consumers.
“For Lilo, it has always been word-of-mouth for brand awareness. Good food quality speaks for itself,” she said, adding that customers can tell the difference once they’ve tasted it for themselves.
As a testament to its product quality, Lilo has been awarded the ‘Best Nutritious Food Seasoning Powders’ by Parents World.
Lilo is also among 64 other brands that is listed as a ‘Made With Passion’ product, which is a national initiative that showcases and celebrates local lifestyle brands and the passion behind them.
Summing up the interview, Lily said that she strives to only provide the best for her customers and believes that there is no shortcut to building a successful business — “only pure goodness made with passion”.
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Featured Image Credit: Lilo