By Lu Yawen
Soya beans are big in Asian cuisine. In 2020, a HNY Research paper valued the global tofu market at over US$706 million (S$953 million), and it’s only set to get bigger with the rising popularity of meat alternatives. Thus, it’s a good thing that Sachi Wine has figured out how to turn a tofu by-product into alcohol.
Sachi Wine CEO Jonathan Ng can claim that his soya whey wine is the first of its kind in the world. This idea, which started as a university experiment, addresses food waste and sustainability by giving disposable by-products a second life and commercial viability. Ng works with a local small tofu manufacturer who produces 10 to 20 tonnes of soya whey daily. Previously, the manufacturer had to pay for this water to be treated before it can be pumped into reservoirs.
A month after launching, the company has a six-person team. Everyone plays a part in the process – from bottling to marketing and everything else in between. Because of this, Sachi Wine can only produce 1,000 bottles each month. As with all start-up stories, there have been bumps along the way. Last year, after one co-founder left to pursue his PhD, Ng struggled to put together his own research team. Covid-19 then further delayed plans to launch. However, the postponement caused him to rethink the brand’s marketing strategy.
He decided Sachi Wine should be accessible to a wider audience looking for healthier alternatives, rather than aiming for exclusivity. There are 70 calories in each bottle, 18mg of soya antioxidants, and 5.8 per cent alcohol. He developed the website, partnered with large e-commerce platforms such as RedMart and Shopee, and reached out to F&B industry players. So far, it’s been flying off the shelves faster than they can make them. Two weeks after its launch, the first batch sold out. Now onto the second batch, Ng had to ask his partners to pause purchases so the public could get their hands on some. Sachi Wine even has a section on the wine list at chef- owner Andrew Walsh’s new joint, Club Street Wine Room.
Consumers are drawn first to the riveting origin story, but it’s the taste that keeps them coming back for more. The amber-coloured wine with notes of honey and apple and can be enjoyed chilled or warmed up to 45 deg C. “We thought we should target young women looking for easy drinking alternatives. However, we found that 48 per cent of buyers were male, with some in the 50- to 60-year-old range.”
Ng is a serial entrepreneur, but Sachi Wine is his foray into F&B, so he takes any feedback he gets. For instance, a customer suggested that Sachi Wine would taste better carbonated so he’s now developing a sparkling wine. Ng is also in talks with hotels and restaurants to come up with exclusive drops, as well as the customisation of wedding favours. By changing the beans used, the natural ingredients added, or the yeast combination, the wine’s structure and taste can be altered.
For now, Ng is eager to capture the local market before setting his sights abroad. Given that there are 15 tofu manufacturers here in Singapore, and that consumers are always looking for new products, Sachi Wine’s possibilities are endless.