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Q&A with Rubiyat CEO Sharan Balani

Source:Ringier Food     Date:2018-03-20
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THERE’s a growing trend in Indonesia promoted by the glitz and glam of celebrities and influencers. A healthy lifestyle and holistic approach for a better life is currently all the rave. Curiosity from the top level society has now trickled down to upper middle and middle class society. The message is, being healthy is the new sexy.

Realising the big market for health products in Indonesia, the country with the 4th biggest population in the world, Rubiyat decided to be a source of popular health brands. The Jakarta-based health food company led by CEO, Sharan Balani, makes major international health food products accessible locally through big name online stores such as Tokopedia and Lemonilo, as well as stores such as Farmers Market and Indomaret. Not too bad, considering they only just started in 2013. Mr Balani shares more in this interview.

Rubiyat CEO Sharan Balani says, "There are two ways to approach Indonesians, either through their taste buds, or through their curiosity"

Rubiyat CEO Sharan Balani says, "There are two ways to approach Indonesians, either through their taste buds, or through their curiosity"

Tell us the story behind Rubiyat.

Rubiyat is a family business that started in the Philippines. We see that Indonesia is one of the promising options so we develop our company here. We are first and foremost a health company. Our main purpose is to improve the lives of our customers, here in Indonesia, to have a better healthier life. Whether through disseminating information, providing access to healthy food, or even through simple things like providing healthy snacks.

Right now, we’re doing it through food. We try to have products that have more natural ingredients, and organically sourced. In the future, we hope to do it through other channels as well. Currently, our non-food product is only Parakito and we’re also looking into consulting services for healthy lifestyle.

Three words are best to describe your brand: Health conscious, Fun, and Clean. Is that what you are trying to impart

Yes, plus “straightforward”. Because I don’t think eating healthy should be a challenge. If you look at our products, they are healthy and they are fun. It needs to be fun because I believe you can’t change people just like that. If people don’t want to eat healthy then you can’t change their mind. If you’re constantly preaching you’re just putting them off. So we focus on people who are interested, provide the information and the products, then people who are interested will find it.

Tell us about the products available from Rubiyat.

We have Amy’s Kitchen, which is the number one organic and vegetarian brand in the world. They produce a series of ready made meals and canned goods. With this product we are trying to change one of the biggest misconceptions in Indonesia that canned goods are unhealthy. Canned goods are actually not unhealthy, it is just a method of storage. True, there are canned goods that contain preservatives because they were stored for a long time in barrels before they were canned. Amy’s Kitchen however are made straight from kitchen to can without any preservative added. They use the technique called flash freezing, where they rapidly freeze the food to preserve its nutritional content.

Then we have Nature’s Bakery, which are fig-based energy bars. Bakery on Main are a series of allergen-free and gluten-free cereals, including oatmeal, granola, granola bars. PureFit is a vegan gluten-free protein bar. It is actually the world’s first vegan protein bar. We have Simply Seven, which are nutritious hummus, lentil, quinoa chips. Poppins is a company that has a wide array of products that provides superior quality foods at affordable prices.

Another product is Mocktails, an all natural, ready-to-drink mocktails. In many cafés and restaurants the cocktails and mocktails are sweetened with sugar syrup, which is not that good for you. Our product is sweetened with fruit extract or pure sugar cane syrup, which is much healthier than the fructose syrup you usually get in the regular cocktails. It’s also alcohol-free. We have four formulas: Cosmopolitan, Margarita, Sangria, and Whisky Sour. You can choose to add alcohol to these great- tasting drinks.

We have vegetarian bars from USA coming soon, which is KIND. They have a line of vegetarian, healthy and natural snack bars that taste ten times better than the unhealthy ones. We have vegan chocolate coming but negotiations are in the early stages.

How do you choose your products?

We choose our products based on philosophy, taste and price. In terms of philosophy, we look for brands that present themselves in a way that is in line with our philosophy, that is, healthy and with a big focus on community. Price is straightforward; products need to be affordable for Indonesians. For taste, we generally just work with brands that taste really good. Because we believe that part of eating healthy should also to taste good. You shouldn’t give up taste to eat healthy.

Shelf life is also one of the biggest factors in choosing a product. We want to make sure that throughout the process of customs and import as well as transport, the products are in top condition when they arrive and upon distribution in Indonesia.

Right now we get our products mostly from the US, but we’re expanding to get products from Europe, Australia, Asia, and all over. Our aim is to work with the world’s best products.

How do you motivate Indonesians to adopt this kind of lifestyle?

There are two ways to approach Indonesians, either through their taste buds, or through their curiosity. If they are curious, we need to provide them with information, and the means by which they can get the product. If they are not curious, you can show them that healthy food can taste good. Then they can get curious, about healthy food. They will want to learn more about the products.

Indonesia’s current market acceptance to health food is similar to that of the Phillippines five years ago. Right now we are seeing influencers, and celebrities adopting veganism lifestyle, consuming organic food and healthier products. Naturally they share it and that creates curiosity. Hence, there’s an interest in trying it because they’ve heard about it, but they don’t necessarily understand what it means.

Hence, our marketing strategy is very educational and lifestyle-focused. What it means to be healthy, what you can do to live a healthier life, the benefits of being a vegan, and so on. Then we provide products that contribute to living a healthy life. Because I believe if we push people to live a healthier life, they will look for products that support that lifestyle, and those are the products that we import and distribute. 

Healthy food products such as the ones Rubiyat offer are considered an upper middle class market niche. How can Rubiyat make it more accessible to the masses?

Right now, our products are considered for upper middle class market, but we are also working towards lower middle class. Because I don’t believe that being healthy is something that should be exclusive. However, when it comes to this kind of lifestyle, it costs more to make healthier products. Especially in Indonesia where it is very expensive to import.

Hence, besides providing easier access to the products, we are also providing the information. Most of the information for this kind of lifestyle is presented in English and it is not necessarily perceived in the correct manner. So part of our vision is to disseminate information in Bahasa Indonesia. So when people see a celebrity is promoting this lifestyle, they can easily find the information and see if it’s worth it to try.

Who is your competition?

Our competition right now is Kalbe. There are other smaller companies that import health products like us but they don’t consciously do it or market it like we do. They are importers but they don’t use the health approach. They treat their products like any other products or brand where there is the market. So besides us there’s nobody else in Indonesia right now.

How do you see Rubiyat in 10 years?

We hope to be a market leader in the health living category. We’re always looking for new brands that we can represent here in Indonesia. We’re looking to expand to nutritional education, consulting people and businesses about nutrition, and work towards environmental friendly and healthy lifestyle, consulting F&B companies to add healthier items to their products, product sourcing, recipe development, and so on.

Because from what I see, hotels and restaurants in Indonesia may not know what healthy and organic food is. The biggest challenge for hotels and F&B companies are to provide healthy food that still tastes good but also meet the requirements of various healthy lifestyles such as organic, vegan and so on. This is where we see ourselves become a part of the change and give our consultation and services.

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