Entrepreneur Layla Emka is about to launch Fuyo, a snack brand of seasoned, deep-fried anchovy in pouches that she claims will be the first of its kind on the market.
Whereas in Western markets, anchovy is usually prepared raw in oil or brine, in Malaysia, it is deep-fried to become tiny and crunchy. It is usually served as an accompaniment to main dishes in Malay and Chinese food.
Layla, who has polycystic ovary syndrome, hit on the idea of marketing deep-fried anchovy after struggling to find protein snacks that were suitable for her ovarian condition.
Tempe, an Indonesian staple of fried soybean, was about the limit of locally produced offerings, but it isn’t suitable for PCOS sufferers, which account for around 10% of women.
Others, including imported snacks made from lentil, chickpea and quinoa, are much more expensive in Malaysia’s price-sensitive snack market.
When Layla inspected supermarket food aisles, one Thai snack, which branded itself as deep-fried prawns, stood out. When she opened the packaging, she found only crispy prawn heads, which were pricey and wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.
“It got me thinking, when you eat nasi lemak and you get those really crispy anchovies as protein in a meal; what if it were to be made into a versatile product that can be taken as a snack, condiment or main protein and given a typical range of snack flavours?” she said
From her family run food manufacturing business in Kuala Lumpur, Layla was able to develop a snack from anchovy harvested in northern Malaysia with her own seasonings.
She formulated curry, hot and spicy and tom yum varieties, which will be produced to her recipe by a seasonings specialist.
“These flavours will appeal to Malaysian tastes, as we like our snacks tangy, savoury and spicy. There will also be a plain salted version, which can be eaten as a snack or used as an accompaniment to food,” she said.
After giving Fuyo—which means “wow” in Malay—to her friends to test the market, she found it was particularly well received among the drinkers, who picked it over peanuts as a nibble with a tipple.
“I was really excited by this because I hadn’t thought about it. It really fits the profile for bar snacks, so it’s good to know that there are other supply opportunities other than retail.”
As she prepares for roll-out, Layla plans to attack the e-commerce market first by engaging social media influencers to create hype and selling through Shoppee and Lazada.
Afterwards, once Fuyo has created some buzz, she will approach supermarkets using some influence gained from the family business.
“These days, new products are looking to skip the retail front at first due to the cost. They place so many charges up front, which means you have to compromise on other costs like storage and promotions,” she said, adding that she already has attracted interest from F&B and B2B customers.
“By the time it goes on the bricks-and-mortar market, it will hopefully already be recognisable. It’s better doing that than putting it on the shelf and finding people to promote it.”