Sabah Brand Selling Halal Ginger Beer Drinks In Grocrery Stores
Malaysia is a major exporter of rich natural resources. It includes ginger, rubber, palm oil, and timber which are usually shipped in their raw form.
Once processed abroad into other products like furniture, for example, they are resold to local SMEs, governments and private companies at a higher margin. Sometimes even a thousand percent of the price at which the material was sold.
This is according to James Wong, who was saddened to learn of this 10 years ago after returning from New Zealand.
Obsessed with ginger beer during his stay, he wondered why Sabah couldn’t produce his own bottled version. The state was already famous for Tambunan’s spiciest ginger.
By launching childhood friend Matthias Liew, they started working on a recipe in 2017.
Sabahan Slang for “Wow!”
UINAH wants to change the local export industry by partnering with family farms in Borneo to produce their own consumer products.
Relying on the brand, design and packaging patterns of products in Japan and Taiwan, men hope to export UINAH to all over the world one day.
The name UINAH is Sabahan slang which means “Wow!” It reflects the founders’ vision to bring the wow experience to every drink, even the way they run their business.
A big part of UINAH’s values is about empowering local communities and making a difference in their lives.
Therefore, they cut out the middlemen when sourcing spicy ginger from Tambunan. They also buy them at a higher than market average rate under contract farming.
This means that they pay these farmers a higher price than what a regular distributor could, based on a predetermined contract between the two.
“In this way, we are able to ensure the quality and consistency of the ingredients in our products while having a grassroots impact on their lives and communities by directly empowering women family farmers,” James told Vulcan Post. .
Dictionary time: A grassroots movement is an organized effort to effect change in social policy or influence an outcome.
After harvest, it undergoes a period of brewing where the natural yeasts found in the skin of the ginger react with the sugar and other ingredients grown on the spot. This fermentation process takes around two weeks to create its mature taste.
James said only lemons are imported because Malaysia’s climate is not ideal for growing.
Fermentation = alcoholic?
Since ginger beer goes through a fermentation process, that means it’s alcoholic, right?
Not enough. In an interview with the Daily Express in 2018, James explained: “Although it contains only 1.1% alcohol, according to Malaysian regulations, any drink containing less than 2% alcohol is classified as soft drink.”
Just like Root Beer is not a beer, although UINAH Ginger Beer is a carbonated drink, it is not Halal certified solely because of the word ‘beer’.
But that all changed in 2020. UINAH strategically renamed their ginger beer to Ginger Land and even moved to a new factory. All of this has been done to broaden the reach of their customers looking for the Halal certificate.
It also involved modifying many processes in the factory to ensure that there was no alcohol in the product.
“We are happy to announce our Halal license very soon! On the positive side, we made sure that the taste of the drink was not compromised by this change, ”said James.
“We can confirm that it still contains all of the complexity and rich aromas of the original drink.”
After a year of R&D with this new process, he told Vulcan Post that he even prefers this Halal version even more.
Since there are no additives, artificial flavors or colors added to the infusion, the drink should be consumed within 3-5 days of opening. The drink must also be refrigerated at all times.
A 4-pack of their 330ml bottles costs RM 40.46, which is double the price of a 4-bottle 375ml pack of Australian-owned Bundaberg ginger beer at RM 20.88 (according to Jaya Grocer ).
While certainly more expensive, some consumers would be willing to spend to support the values of UINAH and the local farmers they work with.
In addition to the Shangri-La Hotel, UINAH Ginger Land is sold in grocery stores in Sabah and KL. Namely, Village Grocer, Bens, Aeon KL, Pick n Pay, CKS Grocer, Bataras and Servay.
However, with the pandemic halting tourism and events, UINAH’s sales from 50,000 bottles in 2019 were cut by almost half that amount last year.
To combat this, they have pivoted and instead plan to increase their off-trade sales in grocery stores.
Despite these challenges, James shared that what keeps them alive is witnessing the impacts they have on local farmers.
“We want to make Sabah and Malaysia proud to see that we too can compete on the international platform,” he concluded.
- You can read more about UINAH here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: UINAH
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