Enterprise
MUSC Food offers a taste of Sarawak
Najihah S 
MUSC Food produces a range of pastes from Sarawak laksa to Sarawak pepper based items
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CUISINE is not just a style or a cooking characteristic from a particular country or region. It also represents the elements of culture and history.

Laksa, for example, is a gravy noodle dish that has several variants, depending on its origin.

Hence, laksa paste manufacturers need to maintain the authenticity of its taste, while ensuring good nutrition and packaging.

This helps make it marketable to a large section of consumers.

For MUSC Food Industries Sdn Bhd, the journey began in 2008 after the company owners diversified from the bakery business to producing Sarawak food pre-mixes.

Founder and managing director Vincent Chong says prior to setting up the company, the business started in 2006 as a cottage industry producing bakery items.

Chong says it took three years to conduct research before developing its Sarawak laksa paste

“From there, interest in paste production grew when we started developing a new range of fillings for our variety of buns,” he says.

Thanks to encouraging feedback to the taste of its new fillings, Chong says he was motivated to intensify research on the properties of spices and develop a range of pastes.

 

Making the switch

The company then decided to switch from producing bakery items to paste production.

It roped in Salleh Ibrahim as a partner due to his wide experience in the food and packaging business.

Salleh, who is in charge of the back-end operations, was confident the business had potential to develop.

However, MUSC Food is careful to introduce its products to the market as “taste” is a highly subjective matter.

It is also cautious of the ingredients it uses in the production process, and in storing and packaging its products due to health issues.

“All our products are made from specially selected high-quality spices cooked in a clean, hygienic and well-controlled environment.

“No preservatives are added and our product packaging uses high-quality materials to retain freshness,” says Chong.

However, he says it is challenging to obtain the best ingredients without having to pay too much as some suppliers tend to raise prices indiscriminately.

“One of the biggest challenges we encounter in the industry is to obtain high-quality raw materials at reasonable prices.

“Another is the small selection of packaging materials available in Sarawak and their quality. All our supplies have to be imported from West Malaysia or overseas,” he says.

This has prompted MUSC Food to institute a supply chain management system, where products are sourced and prepared on schedule under a given budget.

 

Developing its pastes

Over the years, its products turned first-time customers into repeat ones. Some catering companies also began using the company’s products as part of the ingredients.

MUSC Food went through a lengthy process to develop its pastes. Chong says product development did not kick-off until 2012.

“We spent three years on market research and to develop our business plan while waiting for the factory to become operational.

“It was only at the end of 2012 that MUSC Food actually went into commercial production.

“At the time, only one product was launched – the Sarawak laksa paste,” he says.

The company’s initial paid-up capital was RM40,000. But this was raised to RM180,000 as the business grew.

While the company’s core product remains the Sarawak laksa paste, it began developing new complementary products using the same factory technology.

MUSC Food has since started producing pastes for curry chicken, assam fish, rendang masak merah, beef noodle and pepper-based products.

Chong says its products are available at retail stores and foodservice outlets in the state, and sold in Sabah and the peninsula as well.

Sales have more than doubled from 2013 to last year, mainly due to higher demand from the retail and food service sectors.

MUSC Food sells two tons of of paste products monthly.

Each packet is priced between RM5.60 and RM43 and come in three sizes of 150g, 300g and 600g.

As far as shelf life is concerned, each product can last for almost two years if the packaging is not damaged.

Despite having a lean team of eight employees, the company has entered the export market, the main ones being China, Indonesia and Brunei.

Nevertheless, the export market has its challenges.

“Different countries have different requirements. Some are easier and less tedious than others but as long as our product quality and packaging meet export standards, we will not have any serious problems,” Chong says.

He says the more difficult task is to achieve product acceptance and to get the right importers and distributors in export markets.

 

Building relationships

MUSC Food aims to continue developing and launching high-quality products from Sarawak for the global market.

To achieve this, it is actively fostering a strong relationship with government agencies such as the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) and Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI).

Matrade, which is a national trade promotion agency under MITI, helps to promote, assist and develop the country’s external trade with particular emphasis on the export of manufactured and semi-manufactured products.

The agency also implements a national export marketing strategy to promote the export of manufactured and semi-manufactured products.

It is represented at 40 locations worldwide and assists foreign companies to source for suppliers of Malaysian products and services.



This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 254.