‘Next Milo’? Malaysian diabetic drinks business has eyes on becoming FMCG major-player

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Potonguler has now set its sights on a major expansion drive. ©Potonguler
Potonguler has now set its sights on a major expansion drive. ©Potonguler

Related tags sugar reduction

A Malaysian firm that built a niche for itself within the country’s billion-dollar sweetened condensed milk market as the first product of its kind to use stevia instead of sugar has now set its sights on a major expansion drive.

Potonguler is now on the cusp of significant distribution deals, upscaling production and finalising government partnerships. Its co-founder, Anas Lutfi Norman, is so confident of his company’s product that he even dares to whisper the possibility of global corporations taking an interest in

A family business run by the three Norman siblings, Potonguler, which means cut sugar in Malay, started out as a small manufacturer of sugar-free cordials for diabetics. In 2019, Anas’s younger sister, Amira, devised a formulation using stevia that was suitable to sweeten condensed milk, which is massively popular in Malaysia, especially in the national tea drink, teh tarik​.

We are in partnership with a few government agencies to have nationwide distribution. We are also about to close in on deals with a major dollar shop, Ecoshop, with availability across 200 stores in Malaysia,​” said Anas.

In the last year, we have managed to come up with more SKUs for our cordials and we are in the process of making the condensed milk product shelf-stable with a long shelf life. When this is ready, we will be ready to hit the market space at big retailers like Tesco​.”

This move to develop a shelf-stable dairy product could propel the family business into the major leagues, and the siblings know this. To gear up, they have been investigating how a regional beverages major like F&N has been developing its own dairy products.

Anas said the drinks giant best known for its carbonated beverages invested in homogenisation equipment and built up their capacity until it fill the machinery.

They are doing almost a million a day now. We hope someday to go to that scale too. We are fund-raising now so we can invest in the machinery and people who can join us and increase capacity to fill the machinery​,” he said.

At the moment, we have a couple of investors and we are open to more. If people want to come on board they should speak to us. We would also like to talk to distribution partners nationwide and international distributors as well​.”

Though Potonguler is well established, it gives the impression of operating like a start-up, and is already talking about the things beloved of tech companies like scale and exit strategy.

We are a young company, quite nimble and lean and mean. We believe there should be an exit strategy, so we want to increase the value of the brand to make it a household name​.

Perhaps along the line, we will be a bigger conglomerate producing alternative daily food products. Our company would certainly complement the products that Nestlé or F&N bring to the market​,” he added.

In the meantime, it has its eyes on the strategy Nestlé employed in Malaysia to make its Milo chocolate drink a favourite in the country.

From the Seventies until the Nineties, the company’s vans were a common sight parked outside schools across the country, distributing Milo to adoring schoolchildren.

Today, adults reminisce about the “Milo vans” of their childhood, and Potonguler wants to tap into this, in partnership with the education ministry.

We are working on a project to be able to supply to school children. We studied the history of Milo, and saw how it began its appeal to Malaysians through the vans, which seeped into the minds of young people​,” said Anas..

That’s one of the things we want to do: supply an alternative with low sugar and want the kids to remember and be familiar with our products well into the future. We are in talks with the MoE and hope we can collaborate with Unicef, the UN’s children’s fund​.”

Asked if doing so would also serve to put the business on Nestlé’s radar, Anas was more coy.

We are open to anyone, but now we are just trying our best to build value​,” he said.

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