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#mumswelove: Jacqueline Koay of Gratefood Co.

Leading a functional foods movement in Singapore, we learn more about this unlikely entrepreneur with a knack for spotting popular F&B trends.
Jacqueline Koay, founder of Gratefood Co., and mum of a 3 yo daughter, aims to launch a functional food movement in Singapore.
By Kimberly
June 13, 2024

Once a cabin crew for Singapore Airlines, Jacqueline Koay later turned to distributing popular food trends into Singapore. The founder of Gratefood Co., and mum of a three-year-old girl, now aims to lead a functional food movement in Singapore through adaptogens.

Share with us about your childhood and growing up years.

Jacqueline Koay, founder of Gratefood Co.'s childhood memories are full of her playing with both her maternal and paternal cousins.
My parents were police officers and worked in shifts. I spent a fair bit of time under the care of my helper till I was 10yo. Thereafter, I was largely independent. I have a vivid memory of  my helper taking me to my mum’s office on Sundays and waiting for her shift to end. Afterwards, we’d head over to my grandpa’s house to play with my cousins. Similarly, we usually spent our holidays in Penang, where my dad is from. There, I  spent the holidays playing with my cousins too! My parents were not very strict with me but there were moments they stood firm and lectured me for my wrongdoings. Thank goodness I seemed to know what I needed to do on my own most times, and even with not much control from them, I didn’t go astray. 

Gratefood Co. How did it all start?

It started while I was still with Singapore Airlines. I knew that it would be a transient job for me so I kept thinking of what would be next. There was a time when Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter took over the US and I thought, “Why not in Singapore?” I managed to have it produced in Belgium and imported into Singapore and supplied to bakeries. Shortly after, I spotted açaí when Singapore Airlines started the SIN-GRU (Singapore to Sao Paolo) route and repeated the same cycle. Both products are now sold everywhere in Singapore and I’m very glad that I was part of it.

What were some challenges you faced while starting up the business?

In all honesty, it was very manageable as I wasn’t too stressed about exponential growth since I was still flying and had a steady income.  It only got stressful when I managed it full time after leaving the airline and had to grow the business, as cash is always needed during expansion.

There was just one incident that happened during my third year of business, that I eventually thought was a blessing. It was a trademark dispute. My brand was Poppy and Co and whilst filing for a trademark internationally, it was opposed by Poppies, a company in Belgium that also manufactures Speculoos Cookie Butter. In our defense, we cited the brand logo and name were very different, but they insisted that we should not continue. I consulted a friend of mine who is in the industry who eventually brought the owner of Poppies and I to dinner.  In order to resolve this, I rebranded. Rather than spending money on the uncertainty of endless lawsuits, I instead spent to hire a professional brand agency and Gratefood Co was born, with a better brand identity.

What makes Gratefood Co. stand out from the rest?

Spotting food that nourishes your body, producing and launching it in a conservative market like Singapore from scratch. Back them, almost no one knew Speculoos Cookie Butter and no one knew about açaí. Similarly now, no one knows what adaptogens are.
Adaptogens are plant herbs that help your body cope with stressors, bringing balance back to our body. I’m hopeful to start a movement to have people have the option to choose functional food and beverages by adding our adaptogens into it.

Your top three products from the range? Why?

One of Jacqueline's top three products is her unsweetened acai pulp. Image credit: Gratefood Co.
Organic unsweetened açaí pulp – its how açaí is meant to be, without any sugar. Blend this with fruits like banana or mango for natural sweetness.
Gratefood's new line of adaptogen pumps, featuring cordyceps, lion's mane and reishi.

The other two would be from my new line of adaptogen pumps. Cordyceps is my coffee replacement, giving me enough energy for the day, and Lion’s Mane to focus at work. 

What is your typical day like as a mum and business owner?

After sending my daughter to school, I’d either head to the market to grab a few days’ worth of food or head to the gym for a quick session. Whilst I’m contactable via phone in the mornings, I usually only start working (on the computer or out for appointments) from 11am with no breaks all the way till 5.30pm when I pick my daughter from school.
6 – 9pm is mostly time spent with my daughter and I sometimes continue my work after she sleeps. If I have dinner appointments, I try to suggest second seatings so I can still be with her till 7.30pm and have my helper tuck her to bed.

One proudest achievement since starting Gratefood Co.?

To be selling new and interesting products into major supermarkets and convenience stores in Singapore. Gratefood Co. is a trading company. Apart from our line of products, we do import and distribution of FMCG products.

Three things I love doing with my daughter are…

Jacqueline and her well-travelled daughter in Kuala Lumpur.

Bedtime routine with her, dressing up with her, and even just talking to her. At 3yo, she’s picking things up very quickly and she just amazes me with the words she says.

How would you describe your parenting style?

I’m always learning to be a better mother and I don’t adopt a single style. I pick up tips from blogs and social media and apply them to my daughter, where appropriate. They are ever changing so when she exhibits new behaviors, I’d read up on handling it.

I wish I had more time to…

Be alone.

What are the future plans for Gratefood Co.?

Jacqueline's current challenge is educating Singaporeans about the benefits of these adaptogens like cordyceps, reishi and lion's mane.
We will be officially launching our adaptogens in June. The three types are Reishi known for its calming effects, Cordyceps known for its energising effects and Lion’s Mane known for its cognitive support. We continue to spot products that are good for the body.  While I’m currently focusing on adaptogens, I know what I’d like to distribute next. For now, with adaptogens, I foresee it will take 2-3 years before people get used to the term and have it more available in Singapore.

Singapore is generally reserved when it comes to food, especially healthy ones. I suppose this is mainly because of the price points but it is important to know that clean food is indeed more expensive mainly because of the way it is produced. Compared to medical bills, clean food is a small fraction of the price. Of course you can’t just rely on one type of healthy food. It is a conscious effort to choose to consume what’s best for your body at most times, whenever possible.