Two former IT specialists dived into dairy farming in a quest to put wholesome food back on the table. Swimming in unknown waters is often fraught with challenges but both friends persevere to push for milk in its truest form – because this is how milk is best consumed.
By T.K. Tamby
The idea of going back to the basics appealed so strongly to IT specialists Balakrishnan (Bala) Nair and Paul Foster that they thought nothing of giving up the 500-man SAP consultancy they managed in Kuala Lumpur to take up dairy farming.
“We had always felt strongly about the quality of food on the table and farming was always a subject of interest. When numerous expatriates we met in the course of our work complained about the quality of fresh milk available in the local market, we saw the opportunity and decided to dive in,” the duo told Business Circle in an interview recently.
Malaysia has the highest per capita consumption of milk in Southeast Asia at 21.3 litres a year per person, compared with around 2.7 litres globally. Yet its self-sufficiency rate is a mere 5%, with 95% or 2 billion litres of milk imported from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Since both men did not have any farming experience, they relied on the expertise of Bala’s childhood friend who ran a farm. Soon both Bala and Paul (pic, Bala on the right) were joined by another fellow IT consultant, Felix Pius, who shared their passion for good wholesome milk in its natural state. Together, they started a company called Bright Cow Sdn Bhd in 2010 and began a dairy farm.
Challenges and successes
It was a baptism of fire for these tech guys who discovered the true challenges in dairy farming once when they were knee deep in it. “Challenges include the severe lack of skilled workforce and a major shortage of quality feed due to the lack of affordable land to plant grass.
“It is very hard to find a vet who wants to work in a farm. I am still looking for one,” said Bala.
Despite the challenges, Bright Cow plodded through in its effort to produce top quality fresh milk from Jersey cows.
Bright Cow Sdn Bhd started with an initial investment of RM4 million, which included the farm on a 217,800 sq ft of land in Bukit Rotan, Kuala Selangor. The investment also included the purchase of the first batch of 100 pregnant Jersey cows from Australia in 2011, costing A$2,000 (RM6,000) to A$2,500 (RM7,500) each.
Bukit Rotan was picked due to its proximity to Bright Cow’s target market and its accessibility to hay, which forms part of its feed, from the local paddy nurseries. The Jersey cows are fed with grass, hay and specially formulated feed concentrates to ensure sufficient nutrients to produce the required quantity and quality of milk, said Bala, who added that feed makes up 75% of their operational cost.
Due to the lack of suitable land for dairy farming in Kuala Selangor, Bright Cow opted for indoor farming where the cows are housed in a barn with an evaporative cooling system that keeps the temperature regulated between 26o to 28o Celsius. They are also artificially inseminated with quality semen to ensure that the cows are free from sexually transmitted diseases. Comfort and health, said Bala, shows in the quality of the milk produced.
Quality milk without additives
Bright Cow’s core focus is to supply top quality fresh milk without any additives as well as products derived from these milk to their target market, which is mainly the Klang Valley. Currently the farm produces 1,500 litres of milk per day.
Marketing proved to be another challenge, said Bala, for there was a need to convert consumers whose palate has grown accustomed to reconstituted, homogenised and flavour-enhanced milk, commonly found in local supermarkets.
“People are not used to the idea of drinking unpasteurised non-homogenised fresh milk and are unaware of its benefits,” said Bala. Educating consumers, suppliers and retailers has been a huge part of our marketing effort, added Paul.
Bright Cow Milk started out with home deliveries, but can now also be found in more than 10 retail locations, including Jason’s Food Hall in Bangsar Shopping Centre; Village Grocers in Bangsar Village, 1 Mont Kiara and Sunway Giza; Ben’s Independent Grocer in Publika; Jaya Grocer in Mutiara Tropicana and Empire Shopping Gallery; Presto in Citta Mall; Hock Choon Supermarket; and Cold Storage in Solaris Mont Kiara.
Packed in one litre bottles, the milk retails at between RM9.30 to RM9.80 per bottle. For home delivery, it is available at RM8 per bottle with a minimum order of two bottles.
Bala, who has received positive feedback on the taste and the quality of the Jersey cow milk, sees a steadily growing consumer base and said that, despite the hurdles, Bright Cow is finally making inroads into the local milk market, especially in the Klang Valley.
Another significant validation of quality came in the form of a group of Italian entrepreneurs looking to produce cheese in Malaysia to meet the growing local demand. “They tasted our milk, took samples back to Italy and found it to be perfect for making high quality European cheese.”
As a result, Bright Cow Sdn Bhd entered into a joint venture which led to the incorporation of Romani Food Sdn Bhd in March last year. The RM1.5 million Romani Food factory, set up in October last year, produces a wide array of European cheeses including blue cheese, mozzarella, crescenza, magrello, mascarpone, mozzarella, ricotta and scamorzella (pic) as well as the Indian cheese paneer, using Bright Cow milk.
Apart from introducing the new range of products to ready customers in his milk delivery list, Bala is also looking at appointing home-delivery entrepreneurs who will be entrusted to develop the market in their areas.
“We will supply our products to these entrepreneurs, who will not only sell our products but also help develop demand in their pockets of economy by changing both their mindset and palate.”
A few local entrepreneurs have already come on board and, with this development, more Malaysians will soon have a chance to try milk like they’ve never tasted before.
For more information, please visit Bright Cow’s website.