How An Office Worker Built Malaysia’s Very Own Dairy Empire

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source: New Straits Times

From the aisles of convenience stores to the shelves of high-end supermarkets, Farm Fresh products have become a staple in Malaysian households.

Ubiquitous yet distinctly local, this dairy powerhouse is 100% homegrown!

The story behind Farm Fresh is not just one of entrepreneurial success, but of a bold leap from corporate comfort into the uncharted territory of dairy farming. It’s the tale of Loi Tuan Ee, a former corporate executive who dared to dream beyond the confines of boardrooms and marketing strategies.

source: Channel News Asia

From Cubicle To Cowshed

Loi Tuan Ee’s journey began in the corridors of corporate success, where he climbed the ranks in the food packaging industry, rubbing shoulders with giants like Sony and Panasonic for two whole decades.

But despite the extensive financial rewards, Loi, at the age of 42, felt a calling to return to his roots in agriculture.

Hailing from a kampung in Setiawan, Perak, Loi’s childhood amidst rubber trees and tapioca fields instilled in him a deep-seated passion for farming. In 2005, armed with determination and capital, Loi bid farewell to his corporate career and embarked on a daring venture – a dairy farm in Kampung Mawai, near Kota Tinggi.

Despite warnings from friends and family and leaving behind a lucrative corporate job, Loi embarked on his journey into dairy farming with a cash investment.

Facing increasing skepticism and concerns about his decision, especially given his prior financial success, Loi remained determined. Despite being labeled as undergoing a ‘mid-life crisis’, he persisted, purchasing 500 acres of land in Kampung Mawai near Kota Tinggi in 2006 to establish his farm.

Situated far from the main road and lacking cellular reception, the farm symbolised Loi’s unwavering commitment to his new venture.

source: Channel News Asia

Moo-ving Forward

Loi’s initial foray into farming wasn’t without its challenges. Starting with goats, dragon fruit, and Arowana fish, he soon pivoted towards dairy, recognising the untapped potential in Malaysia’s dairy market.

Acquiring 60 Holstein Jersey cows from Australia, whom Loi lovingly refers to as ‘ladies’, he navigated logistical hurdles and financial constraints to kickstart his dairy operations.

This posed a challenge due to the cows’ lack of adaptation to Malaysia’s tropical climate, resulting in a low milk production volume. Additionally, he encountered difficulties securing loans from banks for acquiring livestock and necessary infrastructure.

“If you’re looking to venture into other established industries like palm oil, bankers are eager to lend. However, if your interest lies in purchasing cows, they express significant apprehension,” he elaborated.

Loi’s perseverance paid off when Khazanah Nasional, Malaysia’s strategic investment arm, extended a lifeline to his burgeoning enterprise.

Buoyed by financial backing, Farm Fresh blossomed into a juggernaut within Malaysia’s dairy industry. From modest beginnings in 2008, the brand rapidly ascended to dominate the market, capturing over half of Malaysia’s fresh milk consumer share by 2019. The company’s meteoric rise culminated in a landmark IPO in 2022, solidifying its status as a corporate heavyweight.

Currently, Agrifood Resources Holdings, an investment vehicle of Khazanah, holds a 30% stake in Farm Fresh.

With eyes set on regional expansion, Farm Fresh ventured beyond dairy, embracing plant-based alternatives and diversifying its product portfolio. Strategic acquisitions, including Melbourne-based St David Dairy, bolstered the brand’s global footprint.

Farm Fresh has also expanded its offerings by opening its Selangor farm to visitors. Guests can enjoy dining at The Acre by Farm Fresh, or indulge in soft serve made from Farm Fresh’s milk at Cream Hauz!

source: Channel News Asia

Beyond The Barn

Amidst its commercial triumphs, Farm Fresh remains committed to ethical and sustainable practices. The company’s farms boast the Certified Humane Raised and Handled certification, setting a precedent for animal welfare in Asia’s dairy sector. By empowering local farmers through fair pricing and innovative dealership programmes, Farm Fresh champions community development and economic empowerment.

Loi highlighted Singapore as Farm Fresh’s main market due to its proximity to Johor farms. Exporting to Singapore for years, Loi sees growing traction. Farm Fresh also targets Brunei, with plans for Indonesia and the Philippines. Operating five farms, they’ve grown dairy cow numbers from 60 to 6,000. Key to production is breeding heat-resistant hybrid cows, acquired in 2012. Loi ensures quality feed and grazing space for the cows, prioritising animal welfare and product quality.

Furthermore, the brand’s environmental stewardship is evident in its commitment to waste reduction and resource conservation. From rainwater harvesting to carbon footprint reduction, Farm Fresh leads by example, demonstrating that profitability and sustainability can coexist harmoniously.

Farm Fresh has achieved significant environmental milestones, recycling 336.7 million litres of Farm Dairy Effluent (FDE) and 88.3 million kilograms of solid waste. They’ve eliminated over 1.7 million kilograms of chemical fertiliser and saved 500.5 million litres of municipal water through rainwater harvesting and tube well pumping.

Additionally, their carbon intensity is 17% lower than the average Asian dairy farm, and they’ve recruited 72% of their workforce from rural Malaysian communities.

You can check out their full Sustainability Report for the year 2023 here.

source: The Peak Malaysia

Udder Success

Loi’s departure from his previous job might have seemed like a midlife crisis to some, but in truth, he was broadening his horizons. His vision extended beyond conventional boundaries; he aimed to establish a brand where all stakeholders, including customers, employees, and animals, receive top-notch care.

As Loi puts it, “I think we wanted to build a brand and someday, people will appreciate this as a company where all our stakeholders from our customers, our employees, our animals, are well taken care of.”

In retrospect, Loi’s decision to trade boardrooms for barns may have seemed unconventional, even reckless to some. Yet, his vision and tenacity have propelled Farm Fresh to unprecedented heights, reshaping Malaysia’s dairy landscape in the process.

Today, Farm Fresh continues to flourish, serving as a symbol of passion, perseverance, purpose-driven entrepreneurship, and damn good yoghurt drinks.

Cover image via Channel News Asia and X/@FARMFRESH_BANGI