About Cottage Farm
At the heart of Cottage Farm is the belief that healthy generations are built by eating right. Inspired by the mission to help busy mothers who want convenient yet nutritious meals for their children, we have created a wide range of innovative healthy foods using mainly organic ingredients and definitely 100% naturally derived, taste delicious and a breeze to prepare.
A word from the founder
Hello, I’m glad you found your way here!
I’m Clarissa, a mom of two beautiful girls.
I’m also a trained biochemist and founder of Cottage Farm, a company that innovates and manufactures organically derived, delicious and easy-to-prepare food products, such as instant noodles and beverages. As crazy as it may sounds, we were the first to believe that it’s possible to create healthy AND tasty instant noodles without the addition of MSG, preservatives, colouring, flavouring, wax, fillers, dairy or artificial creamer and artificial sugar –and we have actually made it happen!
Let me share the rollercoaster journey that got us to this point.
The Original Crazy Ones
I grew up with #theoriginalcrazyones – my parents. Mum and dad ate only organically grown vegetables and fruits. They forced my siblings and I to carry drinking water in glass bottles to school. It was super embarrassing because back then, everyone else only used tupperware. Remember, this was way before the #plasticisevil era. With that kind of upbringing, I naturally grew up with the belief that healthy generations can only be built by eating right.
Many years later, while I was looking to exit a lucrative but unfulfilling corporate career, I visited some organic farms in Cameron Highlands. It was there that an idea began to germinate.
With the hopeful intention to inspire other mothers to cook for their family, Cottage Farm was born in 2009 as an organic vegetables home delivery. We travelled far and wide to search for organic farmers who used composted fertilisers instead of pesticides. At every dropoff, we not only took the time to introduce new vegetables to our customers but also suggested simple, healthy recipes that busy mothers could make at home. To make all this happen, I needed double of normal delivery time.
But it was all worthwhile, especially when we found out that our biggest fans were children. Turns out, contrary to popular belief, that children actually love the sweetness and taste of the leafy vegetables! They just don’t like the bitter taste of pesticides in conventionally grown greens. In them, I found my purpose.
Alas, things went from excitement to cessation within three years. By December 2012, we noticed that we were having more dropouts than subscribers. One day, my 13-year-old nephew, who came along on my deliveries during school holidays, said, “Aunt Clarissa, it pains me to see you doing this difficult work. Please stop.”
My heart broke. I didn’t want to give up on my dream, but how could I possibly sustain my business? Going back to the drawing board, I remembered calling my customers who told me that although they would love to cook, they had no time, so they ended up eating out.
Then it struck me: what if I could give them a solution? I asked around and believe it or not, the answer came from my own family. Noodles! Simple, delicious and universally beloved by Malaysians.
A new beginning
Filled with excitement, I looked for a reputable food manufacturer who could meet my stringent criteria. In 2011, we launched quick-cooking noodles made from organic unbleached wheat flour.
“Launched” sounds really grand, doesn’t it? In reality, we were a tiny little enterprise. Armed with my trusty old Nokia, I’d hurtle up and down the highway in my clunky old Wira, the boot and backseat crammed to the ceiling with noodles and flyers. I shot the product photos with my parents’ SLR camera, and my brother designed the labelling stickers. I was biochemist, merchandiser, promoter and marketer, all rolled into one.
Bit by bit, my passion project began to grow. My husband, daughters, siblings, relatives and friends dropped by once in a while to chip in. From a single product, we expanded our range to incorporate healthy vegetables such as pumpkin, carrot and spinach in our noodles. The idea arose from the intention to help farmers who didn’t know what to do with their surplus harvest.
We were small, but we were growing. And we were not alone.
Love is the mother of invention
Like any proud mama, growing this business without my children in the picture would be meaningless. My girls were 2 and 5 years old when Cottage Farm started. They would camp in the lab with me as I conducted my experiments. They were one of my sensory panels when I wanted people to test-taste my products. And it was my daughters who inspired my next product.
One day, my eldest daughter came home from kindergarten asking for instant noodles. Her sister followed suit, saying that all her friends were eating it. Imagine my horror. Here I was, a trained biochemist, and my own children were asking for junk food!
After many sleepless nights, I decided that if I couldn’t beat them, I would join them. I had accumulated a few years’ experience producing noodles under my belt. Surely instant noodles couldn’t be that difficult? If I succeeded, I could help other mothers facing similar challenges.
By now, all my resources had depleted from paying shop rentals, packaging materials and overheads. Thankfully, my guardian angels came to my rescue: my mom and dad, my biggest hard core supporters, backed me up financially.
Trial and error
That was just the beginning. My biggest challenge was how to strike a balance between taste and nutritional value. I wanted my products to be indistinguishable from commercial ones. It is an impossible task - commercial instant noodles taste good because the seasoning is made up of artificial flavourings synthesized by computer codes. You can never get the same bold, strong flavours using all natural ingredients, but that was the kind of standard I set for myself.
I walked into hundreds of sundry shops and wet markets searching for raw materials, vegetables, herbs and spices. I experimented with all kinds of combinations and cooking methods so that each serving was a balanced meal itself with carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre. It took more than two years before I nailed the formulation of the noodles and the food seasoning. I knew we were ready when my two kids gave me their stamp of approval.
Cottage Farm instant noodles, in original and curry instant flavours, was finally born in July 2013, a first-of-its-kind plant based instant noodles from all organic and natural ingredients. They were a hit with my customers!
An ethical approach
As a mother and biochemist, feeding other people is a huge responsibility. Even though we are a small company, we do the best we can to make sure that our products are using as much organic ingredients as we can source and healthy.
We source every ingredient personally and go on physical site inspections before selecting a farm as our supplier. We replicate certain processes that are carried out in the factory to ensure the final product lives up to expectations before it goes to market. As a precaution, we conduct random pesticide tests on our vegetable supplies, even though we already commission an industrial lab to carry out standard testing.
Yes, these additional steps consume a lot of resources, but I believe this is the ethical way to do business, especially food business.
From red to black
Throughout our journey, we learned business the conventional way: by trying, failing, learning and trying again. Thousands of flyers were printed and distributed, many to unresponsive customers. Boxes of excess and broken noodles have been returned, which we give away at my children’s day care centres, my neighbourhood and old folks’ homes. The hardest part of all, perhaps, is building up people in my business.
Slowly over the years, we began to see progress. We began to figure out what we liked to sell and what our customers liked to buy. Our customers began ordering from us in more consistent and predictable patterns. With profit came more opportunities and milestones.
Encouraged by the warm reception to our instant noodles, we formulated and launched four more flavours in 2018: Tom Yam, Spicy Fried, Carbonara and Bolognese. In October 2018, we launched our Organic Ancient Grains Instant Beverage and Mulberry tea range. By end of December 2018, premium retailers Ben’s Independent Grocer and Village Grocer listed and displayed almost our full range of products consecutively. In January 2019, our shopping cart website was finally up and running. In August 2019, our 2 minutes hot water Instant Rice Vermicelli range and the Ancient Grains Beverage captured the Gluten Free market. The red ink slowly turned to black and by 2018, we were profitable for the first time.
Not just a business
As we grew, we realized that this company could do more than just sell stuff. Our vegetarian and gluten-free products provide additional options to people with health conditions who require special diets. We funnel part of our profits into creating work opportunities for women around our community. Schools and educational institutes regularly invite us to talk about healthy cooking. From educating mothers about healthy eating in the beginning of our journey, we are stirring the hearts of children with the joy of cooking.
In the year 2020, we will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary. We are no longer a “car boot” sales company, but an organisation with more than 70 stores and supermarkets selling our products across 7 states and a thriving e-commerce business.
Throughout our journey, we have remained committed to the idea that Cottage Farm can be a petri dish for experimenting with ideas about organic food and natural products, health education and cooking, ownership and accountability, risk and reward, conflict and collaboration, leadership and followership. In the end, we hope to continue the changes that were set in motion by making this company more sustainable and education-based for the community and the world.