Bottling Up the Liquid Zest of Life with Anabelle Co-Martinent of La Juiceria

Discover how creating nutritious everyday alternatives is the way to make Malaysians healthy
Tuesday 2 November 2021

This Portraits is brought to you by Nespresso – Made With Care

 

What do Hawker Hall, Super Saigon, and La Juiceria have in common? These homegrown businesses are all founded by Anabelle Co-Martinent, the visionary behind La Juiceria Superfoods Sdn Bhd. For those living in the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, La Juiceria is one of the few healthy choices they have as they scroll through the online food delivery options—which are rife with fast food and bobas. 

Serving nourishing juices, poké bowls, and meals that would take you on a healthy kick from breakfast to dinner, Anabelle’s one true goal is to, as she puts it, make Malaysia healthy. “Health is something that’s relevant to everyone—young, old, rich, poor. And it’s only going to get more and more relevant because of the pandemic. When we started La Juiceria eight years ago, health was considered a trend. To me, it’s not a trend. It’s only sooner or later that you will discover that it’s important,” the co-founder and director said.

As Richard Branson once declared, “a big business starts small.” And start small, she did. “I started in my home, with a juicer in my kitchen—that’s it,” Anabelle shared as we converse about her beginnings. One of her earliest customers (and success stories) was none other than her husband, who went on a three-week juice cleanse and lost eight kilograms in that same span of time. After that, Anabelle tested deeper waters: her friends. 

Coincidentally, the juices weren’t the only commodity that she was trading in; juicers were part of that health crusade too, as she was democratising her formulae. “I was teaching them recipes. To me, whether I become successful from the juice, or from teaching people, that doesn’t matter. The end goal was the same: to make people healthy,” she reiterated. 

This distressing statistic was the impetus for the brand: In 2018, The Star reported that Malaysia has the highest rate of diabetes in Asia, and one of the highest in the world. Another endemic for the country is obesity, with over 15% of its population is classified as obese. “Malaysia is a food haven, but it resulted in these issues. As long as Malaysia has these problems, there will always be people who will need solutions.”

Before she ventured into the juicing world, Anabelle used to dabble in other forms of solution, having had high-flying managerial roles for tech giants such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia. When it comes to explaining the science behind the juice, Anabelle was quite modest. “Cold-pressed juice is not a new thing; it has been there since my mother was a child. But the technology to extract the juice has changed. The old technology requires you to blend the hell out of it.” 

Simply blitzing the fruits and vegetables will cost you its precious nutrients, as heat speeds up oxidation. And at La Juiceria, it’s immediately bottled after the cold-pressing, with zero air inside to keep the juices at its freshest. After that, consumers have about five days to chug down the nutrition. It may not have a long shelf life, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. 

While the best approach to health is to actually eat the fruits and vegetables by themselves, this founder believes that there must be a more convenient alternative to fit into our current way of living. “If you could eat the entire thing during this exchange, that’s great. But if you couldn’t, and I squeezed the carrot into a glass, and said ‘look, it’s going to be great for your eyes and skin’, it’s easy for you to drink it.” 

With plenty of pseudo-medical marketing going around in this industry and beyond, know that La Juiceria took the extra measure to ensure the health of its patrons. At one point, the brand even had five nutritionists on the team to oversee the creation of the juices. “It’s a great opportunity for them, as they typically don’t find cool jobs in the nutritionist line. They were so happy, and it was such an exciting moment for us all at the time, revolutionising health through juices.” 

The brand debuted with ‘Goodness Greens’, a blend of five vegetables (organic kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, and parsley) and two fruits (apple and lemon). From this one star model, La Juiceria has come up with an array of zesty, health-giving juices, none of which have any water content to dilute the benefits. After the La Juiceria team had that down pat, it was time to expand their offerings to capture a greater audience. In order to make that happen, Anabelle and her team embarked on a journey to find the right combinations. “I kind of experiment, and find that some tastes are very ‘Malaysian’. That’s how I know that was it”, Anabelle explained. 

Even when it comes to the meals served at La Juiceria, Anabelle was mindful of the market. “It’s always about constantly innovating and adopting it into the Malaysian taste.” Some newer recipes include ingredients that are novel to a local’s repertoire. For instance, the restaurant recently added keto offerings that integrate konjac rice and noodles—and she knows it will take some time for Malaysians to get used to. Giving these foreign textures a local spin is the way to go, so that even the unadventurous will be tempted. “By the time they want to try and experiment, our brand will be there for them.” 

By now, you can tell she’s a staunch believer in the importance of keeping ahead of the curve. “I think that our competitors have a very noble purpose, as we all share a common goal. However, it takes stamina, inspiration, passion and creativity to keep on innovating, which is a whole different ball game. It’s not just expanding the menu; it’s thinking outside of the box, and not just about the industry that you’re in, but all the other aspects of the environment to make your brand relevant to everyone,” she asserted. 

When the pandemic was at its all-time high, the business had to realign itself—fast. As we’ve seen, failure to do so has resulted in a cascade of misfortunes not only for companies, but for the individuals behind the scenes as well. Mental health and stress management became imperative at La Juiceria, as they had to switch gears in an instant. “I’m happy to say that since the start of the first lockdown, we have remained operational. It has allowed us to keep most of our employees.” 

This was a testament to the power of collaboration, and Anabelle could not agree more. “I believe the world is full of potential for collaborations, and even more so during the pandemic and in today’s social media age. There’s such strength in being together,” she said. Partnerships can truly take a person out of the dreaded ‘tunnel vision’, and such is the case for this founder. “I quite enjoy working with other brands, discovering new ideas and concepts, new truths, and new things beyond the realm we already know.”  

Like many other businesses, La Juiceria assuaged the worries of its employees, patrons, and suppliers by keeping as much of the team working from home as possible, even if it meant scaling down on their big plans. Downsizing can go both ways, and Anabelle chose to trim La Juiceria menu offerings, so the workload reflects the hiccups the situation presented. This way, the situation can remain under control, from the kitchen to the customer. “Nobody was equipped to understand what is the right and wrong thing to do in these situations. But during this time, where we couldn’t grow, or even see each other as often as we could, we used it to fix a lot of smaller issues, and strengthen things that we never had time for.”

However, even the best precautionary measures are not infallible. And when the inevitable happened (positive cases, or close contact) Anabelle stepped up to the plate. “We just make sure that we’ve done all the things that we could. A few members of the staff were impacted by Covid-19, and we ensured that they had food.” Beyond that, she also made sure that those that needed to be quarantined did not suffer pay cuts. 

She’s an unwavering entrepreneur; she does not lose sight of her goal. “In everything that we do, whether it’s packaging, or the location, or the food we make, we bring branding and customers in mind. When you put care and love and a lot of thought into it, customers will notice. It’s something that I’m proud of, knowing that I’ve done my very best.” 

And this is how we got to talking about recycling. Did you know that La Juiceria takes back the plastic and glass bottles? The plastic all goes to a facility that will take care of the last mile of the process. The shot glass bottles, however, will be recycled in-house. “When we were giving it to glass companies, they exported it, generating more waste. So we take the bottles back, and sterilise them. I’m so happy that a lot of Malaysians, more and more, are very conscious about it.” 

Towards the end of our conversation, Anabelle took a look into her past and shared her proudest accomplishment. One would think that she’s most proud of having been part of large, multinational corporations, winning multiple awards, or of the fact that she is now a co-founder of a healthy food empire, but the jewel of her life is motherhood. “Having children transformed me into a better version of myself, making me want to do bigger and bolder things in my business,” Anabelle said, concluding that the next pursuit of her life will most definitely be related to securing the future of her children, be it in the food security, or technology. 

Looking into the future, the co-founder reflected on the past couple of years, which were tumultuous to say the least. “We definitely want to continue to serve people, to continue to grow an outlet or two, but not as fast as what we did in the past. We’ll take time for the business to stabilise, and take time for family, and take time for the things we value the most. The pandemic has reinforced the fact that we need to think beyond the product we’re creating.” 

Clearly a family woman, her next decade will be focused on her children’s future. Speaking on her favourite guilty pleasures—which are potato chips and fried chicken—Anabelle constantly takes her two young children into consideration. “I don’t want them to grow up always thinking that I’m on a diet, or I don’t eat these things. I want my children to have a balanced relationship with food.” After all, the La Juiceria juices and salads will be there to offset those snacks. 

 

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