The food industry is rapidly evolving. One of the trends that has been the fundamental driver of change in the industry is health and wellness, and its growth is accelerating.

According to Statista, the global health and wellness food market is projected to increase to US$811.82 billion by 2021, up from US$707.12 billion in 2016.

As consumers become more educated on the benefits of healthier choices, retailers too are shifting their positions to cater to demand. Healthy snacks however, are not as easy to find as healthy food.

42-year-old Nina Bual, who has been on the keto diet “for quite some time”, struggled to find suitable snacks to satisfy her cravings and figured that others must be facing the same problem.

This personal painpoint led to the birth of Wowlah, a new online marketplace for healthy food in Singapore, which she co-founded together with Michelle Yao.

Third Business Venture By Pair Of Serial Entrepreneurs

Wowlah is actually part of a Singapore startup generator called The Creative Square Company (TCS).

nina bual and michelle yao, co-founders of wowlah
Nina Bual (left) and Michelle Yao (right), co-founders of Wowlah / Image Credit: Wowlah

That was how Nina and Michelle first met — they are both currently working as in-house entrepreneurs and work together across a number of different businesses, and have bonded over a common passion for healthy food.

Nina is originally from the United Kingdom, and has found success in her business ventures over the past 14 years. She owned a chain of spas and a nail polish brand in India, and subsequently established a cybersecurity company when she moved to Singapore.

Michelle on the other hand, started her career in fashion design and merchandising but has since chosen the path of entrepreneurship, dabbling in e-commerce, tech, retail and other consumer products.

Together, they’ve already launched three businesses to date.

I found it impressive that Michelle is already a serial entrepreneur at age 28, which made me wonder if she has faced any doubts from others just because she’s young.

There definitely was a lot of doubts at the beginning, but looking back, that all came from internal insecurity rather than external parties questioning my credibility. I’m fortunate enough to have a supportive family of entrepreneurs who understand the itch to want to start something for yourself.

No matter at what age you start a business, there will always be that voice in the back of your mind casting doubt and judgement. But I think with entrepreneurship, the key is to keep practicing taking chances and soon enough that voice softens down and confidence builds with every decision.  

– Michelle Yao, co-founder of Wowlah

Online Marketplace For Diet-Specific Foods

Both of them only came up with the idea of Wowlah in January this year, but the site was launched within just a month.

They were quick to execute because TCS had awarded them with an initial fund of S$20,000 to experiment, prototype and build the business to get market validation.

Describing Wowlah, Michelle explains it as the online destination for diet-specific foods in Singapore, offering healthy snacks, sweet treats, and even cooking ingredients.

Through their platform, customers can shop by diet to find suitable keto, gluten-free, or vegan food easily. Customers can find everything they need to fill up their pantry from cauliflower rice and konjac noodles, to keto chocolate chip cookies and veggie chips.

wowlah starter kits
Wowlah’s range of Starter Kits / Image Credit: Wowlah

They also offer Starter Kits (their flagship product), which are curated boxes of diet staples to help diet-newbies ease into their healthy lifestyle.

Traditionally, people with specific dietary requirements will find shopping in supermarkets a painful experience, having to read through lists of ingredients just to find the right product.

We make that shopping experience fuss-free (and guilt-free) by organising our products by diets and aisles.

– Michelle Yao, co-founder of Wowlah

Wowlah stocks a range of locally-made products and international brands to fit into what customers want.

Their merchandise is what differentiates them from other businesses, stressed Michelle.

“We maintain an agile system so that we can listen to customer feedback and deliver on their demands quickly. We bring in brands we know our customers love and crave, but also have a selection of new and interesting products they might not have come across before.”

Forced To Go On A Hiatus After Only 2 Months

wowlah banner
Image Credit: Wowlah

According to Michelle, Wowlah received an “overwhelmingly positive response” when it first launched.

She refused to disclose exact sales and revenue figures, but shared that they managed to hit their quarterly sales target within the first month of launch.

She added that customers have also given feedback that they didn’t know that diet-friendly snacks are available in Singapore until Wowlah came about.

The early days wasn’t smooth-sailing though. They had to quickly learn how to manage their inventory, streamline logistics and deliver great customer service to ensure customers’ satisfaction.

Moreover, when Singapore went into circuit breaker mode in Singapore, they were unable to keep Wowlah going as they had to prioritise the wellbeing of their team.

We were still shipping out orders up until the day of circuit breaker when we weren’t allowed to go to the office anymore, and remained at home until Phase 2.

Because we weren’t able to accept any orders during that time, the loss we suffered was mainly in opportunity and potential revenue.

– Michelle Yao, co-founder of Wowlah

It was a “challenging decision to make at the time”, especially since their business had only operated for about two months then, but they knew it was the right thing to do.

Since resuming their operations in Phase 2, business has continued to thrive as they tap on the growing trend of people buying their food and groceries online.

“While the learning curve was steep, I’m proud that we were able to get past our teething period and emerge on the other side with a clear vision for the future,” said Michelle.

Standing Out From The Crowd

As a small and young startup, a key challenge for them is standing out from the crowd and capturing the customers’ attention.

“We’re constantly trying different ways to strengthen our branding and make sure what we offer is valuable to the consumer,” said Michelle.

“While it’s a challenge that we have to keep working on, we’ve been fortunate enough to get recognition from the community, gain publicity from a few notable outlets, and align ourselves with key influencers, all of which have contributed to helping us overcome our challenges.”

But supermarkets today are well-stocked with healthy food selections and there are already plenty of healthy snack players in Singapore such as Boxgreen and Amazin’ Graze, so how does Wowlah aim to set themselves apart?

A key way we differentiate ourselves from large supermarkets is by allowing customers to be able to shop by diet or buy our curated Starter Kits for convenience. We’re also data-driven and agile in the way we merchandise, which means we’re able to listen carefully to what our customers want and deliver on those demands quite quickly.

Wowlah is different from Boxgreen and Amazin’ Graze because these brands focus on a handful of own-labeled products, while we’re essentially a specialty diet store that carries a broad range of products and brands.

– Michelle Yao, co-founder of Wowlah

Fail Fast, Learn Faster

As Singapore’s heathy food landscape continues to innovate, Michelle trusts that it will open up plenty of opportunities for them.

Sharing their future business plans, Michelle said they are looking to launch corporate pantry services for companies who want to give their staff perks from working from home and/or resuming work in the office.

They are also looking at launching a Protein Starter Kit for those who are looking for high-protein snacks, chocolate and other tidbits, which will be made available soon.

“There’s always a few things brewing in the background as we love to experiment with new ideas — it’s all about where the data takes us!” quipped Michelle.

Ending off the interview with a piece of business advice, Michelle shared an ethos that they believe in at TCS: “fail fast, learn faster”.

We’re big on experimentation, which means we learn a lot from our mistakes in a fast manner. This mentality has afforded us the freedom for all our businesses to move quickly and grow swiftly. 

– Michelle Yao, co-founder of Wowlah


Vulcan Post readers can enjoy S$5 off their Wowlah order with promo code ‘VULCAN5′, with a minimum spend of S$50.


Featured Image Credit: Wowlah

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