Text by: Farrah Darma
The carefully curated line-up of snacks is made with premium natural ingredients with the added touch of a mother’s love and familiar Malaysian flavours.
Kintry, short for “kindred pantry” is a proudly Malaysian health snack brand founded by Michelle Chai when her daughter was just 3 years old. She shares the humble story behind Kintry’s founding – it was during a tough period of her life, when she was mourning the loss of her late mother and raising a toddler as a single parent. Michelle sought to rid herself of that situation and start work on a business. “I didn’t want to dwell in my sadness, part of me wanted to build something for myself and my daughter. It started with close friends encouraging me to start a home-run business. At first, I began baking for cafes but quickly realized it was not sustainable. The shelf life was very short, and I noticed a lot of wastage, not to mention there wasn’t much income.” Not long after this realization, Kintry was founded in her own home kitchen.
Michelle’s daughter is and always has been the main inspiration behind Kintry’s health brand and ethos. Raising a daughter with severe allergies to eggs and nuts when she was younger, Michelle found herself cooking and baking at home most of the time. Her motherly instinct knew something had to be done. In her journey to find products she could feed her daughter, Michelle created Kintry’s first signature product – Kintry’s allergen-free oat cookies. The cookies are handcrafted from scratch, with wholewheat flour, pure butter and rolled oats. “Every ingredient I use is what I would feed my daughter. So it is made as healthy as possible from a mother’s point of view, but tasty as well. There tends to be a perception that Muesli-based products are bland or dry – so I find the middle ground.”
Then comes the packaging that is as thoughtfully designed. The cookies are perfectly sealed in packaging that reflects images of Michelle’s own relationship with her daughter, of which any Malaysian mother could relate to – a mother and daughter working together in front of a kedai runcit (traditional Malaysian shop lot).
“My daughter is my biggest inspiration to Kintry’s start and becoming a mother made me want to be a better role model for my daughter. She inspired me to be more creative with my work.”
Michelle’s poised attitude towards the health and wellness industry was further cemented after growing her business during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, Kintry had a smaller online presence and mainly operated offline. Michelle noticed how consumers were greatly receptive of Kintry’s products as gifts to loved ones during a time when everyone was stuck at home. “A healthier gifting platform to the people” as she calls it.
Along with that, Michelle also recognizes the changing demand for healthy snacks. When it comes to health and wellness, one area that deserves particular attention is the growing attention to ingredients that go into a product. “People want to eat healthier and strive to have at least more balanced meals. So we are also coming up with new products to include more protein and collagen.”
Of course, running a home-grown business as a single mother comes with its own challenges. Michelle finds a sense of balance, calm and centeredness through her daily yoga and meditation practices. “I do believe we can strive to have it all, but it can be tiring. Yoga and meditation help with mental health and is my avenue to take a break from work. I also spend the evenings and weekends with my daughter where practising gratitude always helps with managing expectations.”
Michelle reflects on the earlier days of Kintry where she would have to quietly creep into the kitchen to begin the baking at night, after putting her little one to sleep for the day. “I could only find time to start baking after my daughter went to bed, and neighbours would be wondering what I was baking at that time of the night.”
In discussing lessons learnt, Michelle explains how her goals for Kintry reached new heights through a changed perspective. “In the beginning, I was happy keeping the business small and as it was. My mentor then taught me how we should always have a larger vision. Even if we don’t reach it, even if you just reach 10% of it. That changed my mindset to move beyond the thought of just being here.”
Kintry has since seen diverse growth in its range of products and collaborations. She shares more details on Kintry’s long-term collaboration with Spanish frozen yoghurt brand, Llao Llao – the Honey Quinoa Granola is available as a topping at Llao Llao and has been performing well. This was Kintry’s first venture into a collaboration with an international brand.
Though originally cropped up to cater to her daughter’s food allergies, Kintry has now grown to have stocked the shelves of major industry names including Ben’s Independent Grocer, Oliver Gourmet, Village Grocer, Watsons, Shell, and Petronas.
The oat cookies inspired by Michelle’s daughter are “rolled with no nasties like colouring or margarine.” These cookies have a special place in Michelle’s heart and remind her of how her daughter used to grab two or three cookies during the early days of experimenting in the kitchen. A more recent product to the table, is Kintry’s salted egg chips which Michelle says is another product that “sells by itself”.
There is a common sense of pride over Kintry’s themed gift boxes that draw in uniquely Malaysian elements, a celebration of Malaysian heritage. With a cocktail of different images in every box, the packaging includes images of your typical Malaysian kedai runcit and roti man, reminding you of a very Malaysian childhood. “I want everyone to have a feeling of home and joy when they receive Kintry’s gift boxes.” Other signature snacks include her salted butter caramel granola, pandan gula melaka granola and macadamia cookies with white chocolate chips.
Made with the love of a mother, Michelle’s creativity and giving nature do not end there. She has been taking proactive steps in addressing social issues through Kintry Kindness, a meaningful initiative part of Kintry. Among activities carried out in the past include baking classes for refugee children and donations to various food banks. According to Michelle, the most rewarding part of being Kintry’s founder is the ability to reach out to more people and understand their challenges. “Many entrepreneurs have turned to me for advice, and I find joy in helping others,” she explains.
Within the health and wellness industry, Michelle hopes for a society that is more aware of what they consume. Through Kintry, she is creating portals through which she can better reach out to communities across different states in Malaysia. “Not just to survey the different choices available, but also to educate the public on how they consume food, especially sugars.” Towards the end of the year, Kintry will be doing this by speaking with the younger generation through school visits and workshops.
Looking back, Michelle would not have it any other way. “I wouldn’t do anything differently. Every step I take is a learning opportunity and I’m still learning that there are so many more roads to walk.”
For anyone venturing into health and wellness, Michelle emphasizes on the need to be certain of what you want. “Malaysia’s market needs to be understood well. You have to make sure you come up with the right product for the right audience; and most importantly, enjoy the journey,” she advises.
To this day, Kintry and its products continue to be inspired and influenced by Michelle’s little girl. Although her daughter has now grown to be a passionate 8-year-old who is Kintry’s little salesgirl. “She loves speaking and meeting people. She can strike up a conversation with anyone. That’s the part of the business she’s excelling at, and I will continue to support her in whatever she does.”
Get your Kintry snacks here.