BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

Uni student takes on a niche biz model in M’sia, her biggest competitor is a global brand

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Edible cookie dough was once a trend in the F&B scene a couple of years ago. While few local brands have appeared to leverage it, not many have sustained their presence.

Examples include Lick A Spoon which closed its outlet amidst the pandemic with no additional updates, and Doh Malaysia which seems to be inactive on Twitter with a now-defunct website. 

Such scenarios point to Malaysia’s edible cookie dough acceptance as still being weak, but online cookie business, To The Heart.Co (To The Heart) isn’t discouraged.

Founder Michelle Ho believes that it’s still a niche and even a new market, and so she takes customer feedback to continuously improve her offerings.

From cookies to dough

Despite discovering her liking for edible cookie dough during a trip to Australia, Michelle was unsure of Malaysians’ preferences in the dessert. So, when she first launched To The Heart in 2019, the 20-year old only sold baked cookies. 

The business began with baked cookies / Image Credit: To The Heart.Co

But the yearning to sell cookie dough remained. In 2020, the baker decided to expand her product offerings with a few flavours to test the market’s response. 

Starting with edible cookie dough flavours of 3 chocolate variations, it received ample support from customers. That was the market validation Michelle needed to further explore this vertical.

It was a much safer move to start off with familiar cookies first, since it helped her build an audience that she could test the reception of her cookie dough on. She could also get immediate and honest feedback, rather than relying on theories and analyses based on observing other similar businesses that were around at the time.

It’s not raw cookie dough

Being a university student, Michelle’s schedule is often packed with lectures, assignments, extracurricular activities, and exams. Hence, she often operates To The Heart only on the weekends.

When conducting R&D for new flavours, Michelle turns to experimentation and online tutorials to weigh out each outcome. Customers are a source of inspiration as well, as they can provide input on what flavours they’d be interested in.

While the process of making edible cookie dough is similar to baking cookies, there’s one big difference in the ingredients used.

An instance where you’re literally encouraged to dig in / Image Credit: To The Heart.Co

Raw cookie dough contains bacteria such as Salmonella and E.Coli because of eggs and flour which makes them unsafe to be eaten raw.

Aware of this, Michelle explained, “To The Heart’s edible cookie dough is made with pasteurised ingredients instead which means that there are no raw ingredients in our edible cookie dough, [making] it safe to be eaten as it is.”

Pasteurisation is a process where foods are treated with mild heat to eliminate pathogens that may be present inside ingredients. This food safety standard is also stressed by our former interviewee at Safe Food Corporation, a producer of pasteurised eggs in Malaysia.

Once a recipe is developed, Michelle would get her friends and family to validate them before it’s released to the public. Today, To The Heart sells 9 different flavours of its cookie dough costing between RM14.50 to RM16.60 for 270g, with free deliveries nationwide. 

To The Heart’s prices are slightly lower than the UK-based brand, MyCookieDough which can cost between RM18.06 to RM20.86 (on Grab minus delivery fees), though the weight of its products is unclear.

Eyeing supermarket shelves as the next step

Michelle’s main goal is to get To The Heart’s products on the shelves of supermarkets. One way to do this would be to approach convenience stores like BilaBila Mart, which stocks products from smaller Malaysian brands and provides them with physical visibility, for an opportunity.

But before Michelle does so, she’d have to work on her product’s packaging to include nutritional and product information, as that’s the standard for any products carried by grocery stores.

A sinful jar of cookie dough / Image Credit: To The Heart.Co

With Lick A Spoon and Doh Malaysia being in limbo for their own unknown reasons, it’s hard to say whether an unreceptive market to cookie dough is to blame. If so, have things changed since 2020, which is when MyCookieDough officially launched in Malaysia and when To The Heart began selling cookie dough?

The currently limited data points to that being a possibility, but until more businesses of this nature crop up, it’s difficult to say for sure. For now, there is ample market share in Malaysia up for grabs by To The Heart and MyCookieDough, though the latter has a better advantage as a larger global brand.

One way homemade snacks brand Kintry managed to land itself on supermarket shelves was by raising awareness through pop-up stores and bazaars. This is something Michelle could consider emulating once it’s safer to do so, as selling one’s products on the ground has several advantages.

She would be able to let potential customers try her product on the spot and get any concerns answered immediately. Such a tangible experience typically helps build customer confidence faster and better, leading them to make instant purchases.

For now, the young entrepreneur has managed to build an online customer base that’s brought To The Heart to profitability. Her current advantage as a small business is the ability to foster more personal relationships with her customers, through which Michelle can sustain and build To The Heart’s market relevance.

  • You can learn more about To The Heart.Co here.
  • You can read about more F&B-related pieces we’ve written here.

Featured Image Credit: Michelle Ho, founder of To The Heart.Co

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