PETALING JAYA: For entrepreneur S Vathumalai, change is the only constant. It was this mantra that saw him through defeat before he came up with his bestselling instant cendol, Cendolah.
Malai, who is also known as Mr Cendol, is the first Malaysian to manufacture instant cendol for both the local and overseas markets. Cendolah is now found in Thailand and Vietnam, and even as far as Germany.
This success, however, was preceded by the failure of his previous project involving the South Indian snack vada, which he decided to modify and market in Malaysia in the form of vada chips.
Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, he shared that the latter idea came about after consultation with “many experienced people and the government agency SME Corporation, who were very supportive of my interest in innovating food products”.
Sadly, this venture did not take off, resulting in huge losses to the tune of a few million ringgit. “I was in dire straits. The thought of ending my life even crossed my mind,” Malai admitted.
“But one day, I woke up and told myself failures in business often lead to success if we have courage and determination. And of course, a lot of help from friends and SME Corp, who believe in supporting innovative ventures.”
That’s when Malai decided to venture into the cendol business. He spent days on end devising the formula for the right mix of caramel syrup, the core ingredient of the dessert that also includes green rice-flour jelly and coconut milk.
Malai initially froze the mixture to supply to vendors, but very quickly realised he had to change his mode of delivery to one that didn’t require huge storage facilities and a complex supply chain.
This is how he came up with the idea of retort packaging for his cendol. With this approach, the drink is packed in a pouch, sealed, and heated to extremely high temperatures, rendering it commercially sterile for long periods.
It would be “a major step” owing to the high costs involved, but Malai had faith in his new product. He thus identified a factory in Johor Bahru and set out to produce his instant cendol using retort packaging.
Cendolah comes in the form of an instant drink that can be served in a bowl or enjoyed directly from the packet. Meanwhile, his Caramelazo syrup, available on its own, is also popular as a cordial drink.
Malai has since won several awards from SME Corp and other agencies for his instant cendol. Buoyed by this success, he now wants Cendolah to soar to greater heights, and is in the final stages of repackaging it in a retort cup to be distributed to aircraft passengers as a dessert.
“I have partnered with a successful soft drink company for this venture,” he said, concluding that he is “confident this venture will take off” – pun, perhaps, intended.