fruit for thought

Who would have imag­ined that the suc­cess­ful fruit chain MBG Fruits came from hum­ble be­gin­nings?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - by cH­eRyl POO

The suc­cess­ful fruit chain MBG Fruits came from hum­ble be­gin­nings.

DO you know what MBG stands for?” I hear a deep voice ask as I stand by the colour­ful spread at the MBG Fruits kiosk on the ground floor of Trop­i­cana City Mall in KL wait­ing for the owner to ar­rive for an in­ter­view. It is him, Ad­nan Lee.

“It stands for money back guar­an­tee,” he says.

MBG’s fruit busi­ness has flour­ished since its early days in the 1970s. Now with 16 out­lets in the Klang Val­ley and one in Malacca, it caters to a wide clien­tele which in­cludes cus­tomers who pur­chase di­rectly, or­der on­line and even em­ploy­ees who re­ceive fruits from their com­pany as a form of staff ben­e­fit.

You may have seen these MBG booths which are typ­i­cally lo­cated on the ground floor of a shop­ping mall or com­mer­cial build­ing. Brand­ing has cer­tainly done this fam­ily busi­ness jus­tice.

“We be­lieve in pro­vid­ing qual­ity fruits. In fact, we’re so com­mit­ted to that stan­dard that we’re happy to pro­vide un­sat­is­fied cus­tomers with re­funds,” Ad­nan says.

The booths have two main sec­tions: one for fresh fruit, and an­other for juic­ing. To keep the juices healthy, no sugar is added.

The busi­ness re­ally be­gan in the 1960s when a fam­ily of main­land Chi­nese im­mi­grants were start­ing afresh in Kuala Lumpur. Fam­ily head Lee Foo, who was strug­gling to make ends meet as a labourer, de­cided to sell fruits from a stall in the streets of KL. It was a timely de­ci­sion. Lee’s busi­ness pros­pered as lo­cal res­i­dents re­sponded to his friendly de­meanour, and the bet­ter in­come helped him and his wife raise their eight chil­dren in a squat­ter set­tle­ment in Jalan Bukit Bin­tang.

Even­tu­ally, one of his sons – Ad­nan’s fa­ther – took over the busi­ness. He would bring the chil­dren to help out at the stall dur­ing week­ends and school hol­i­days. “My kids could use a les­son on hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion,” he’d de­cided. Un­be­knownst to him at that time, his el­dest child Ad­nan dreamed of ex­pand­ing the busi­ness.

“I’ve al­ways liked the arts such as in­te­rior de­sign and ad­ver­tis­ing. Brand­ing this busi­ness has been a good av­enue for me to chan­nel my pen­chant and it’s also a ful­fill­ing chal­lenge,” says Ad­nan, who was just 25 when the vi­sion came to him.

“All we had was a small ped­dling busi­ness; not an em­pire for me to take over,” he adds.

Ad­nan, now 35, talks about hard work and far­sight­ed­ness, a trait he feels is lack­ing in many in­di­vid­u­als.

“SRP (now PMR) was the high­est level of for­mal ed­u­ca­tion I re­ceived but I com­pen­sated by be­ing fo­cused even as a boy. To this day, that fo­cus is trans­lated into my busi­ness. I de­cided that this will strictly be a re­tail busi­ness and so far, we have man­aged to keep things sys­tem­atic and un­der con­trol be­cause of that fo­cus.

“Things have been hap­pen­ing fast in the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try in the past decade. The (then) prime min­is­ter was pro­mot­ing the agri­cul­ture in­dus­try and sup­port­ing it by in­tro­duc­ing high technology farm­ing tech­niques. Fruit seedlings that pre­vi­ously could not sur­vive our cli­mate now could. Thanks to that, our lo­cal fruit base has broad­ened; we can now suc­cess­fully plant our own dragon fruit, rock melon, pas­sion fruit and cherry tomato,” Ad­nan says.

How­ever, cus­tomers pay a pre­mium price for MBG Fruits. Ad­nan ex­plains that it is be­cause of the qual­ity of taste and ap­pear­ance, and the as­sur­ance of a full re­fund – not too much to ask of cus­tomers who have lit­tle time to spare. All they need to do is sim­ply place an or­der at the MBG web­site at a min­i­mum pur­chase of RM50. De­liv­ery is on the same day or early the next at a charge of RM2.

“We keep the de­liv­ery charge low be­cause we want to en­cour­age peo­ple to con­sume more fruits even when they have limited time for gro­cery shop­ping. The RM2 is just to cover petrol costs,” says Ad­nan. A fruit bas­ket de­liv­ery ser­vice is avail­able too.

MBG Fruits is not just about the food. “We are sup­port­ive of young peo­ple be­ing a part of the fruit in­dus­try. And we’d like to see our lo­cal fruit in­dus­try grow: it’s ben­e­fi­cial for ev­ery­one,” says Ad­nan.

MBG Fruits hu­man re­sources man­ager Has­nie Sidek at­tests to this.

“I joined the com­pany as an ac­count­ing clerk but in just a mat­ter of months, I was pro­moted. Ad­nan en­joys ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple and takes the time to do so,” she ex­plains.

It was the same with 26-year-old Wan Ah­mad. He started out as a stall worker but dili­gence and good work ethics caught Ad­nan’s at­ten­tion, and he worked his way up to the po­si­tion of mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive. The com­pany con­sid­ers per­sonal devel­op­ment of its em­ploy­ees as a sign of suc­cess.

And now it is ven­tur­ing abroad. Last month, MBG Fruits opened its first over­seas out­let in Xi­a­men, China.

“We’ve been pre­par­ing for this the past six to seven years. The same con­cept and sys­tem will be used. More than merely ex­port­ing our prod­ucts, we want to brand our sys­tem,” Ad­nan says.

He takes his cue from an­other chain – Nel­son’s. “Many peo­ple didn’t think that you could pos­si­bly cap­i­talise on corn but it’s ev­i­dent how well Nel­son’s is do­ing. It’s big in Malaysia and has even gone into 14 other coun­tries. Sim­i­larly, MBG Fruits has come a long way and go­ing in­ter­na­tional is just the be­gin­ning,” Ad­nan con­cludes.

Qual­ity: Lo­cal fruits are the main pro­duce sold at the kiosk, but you can also find im­ported fruit like ava­ca­dos and plums.

‘We’d like to see our lo­cal fruit in­dus­try grow: it’s ben­e­fi­cial for ev­ery­one,’ says Ad­nan Lee of MBG Fruits.

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