He said, “As we went along with Allah's messenger from Mecca to Medina, we passed by a shepherd and Allah's messenger was feeling thirsty… I milked for him a small quantity of milk from his goat and brought it to him, and he drank it and I was very happy.”
This tale, dating back almost 1,400 years, explains in part the popularity of goat’s milk among the Ummah, or community of practicing Muslims. They see it as a naturally functional food with a variety of nutritional benefits and many consume it often.
In Malaysia, where some 60% of the population is Muslim, it is particularly popular. Indeed, a 2017 study conducted in Kedah, an especially conservative state that is around 80% Muslim, found that 40% of residents consume powdered goat’s milk daily, and a further 11% drink it in its liquid form. There are indications its popularity is also growing.
“According to Islamic Sunnah, it’s the best form of milk after breast milk, whereas cow’s and camel’s milk has never been mentioned,” said Muhammad Azhari bin Zid, managing director of SR Avenue.
Goat milk brands
A food manufacturer on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Azhari’s company has for the last two years been the exclusive distributor of HiGoat, one of Malaysia’s best-loved powdered goat’s milk brands.
“Studies have shown that it’s the next best thing to breast milk, and people know that. It produces less curd than cow’s milk as well, and doctors recommend it for babies who do not breast feed,” he added.
Azhari and his partner, Noraizuddin Hazman bin Ali, realised that HiGoat had become a sleeping giant when the approached its owners to distribute it. Since then they have set out to reinvigorate it by stemming the counterfeiting that is widespread across the market and making it more relevant to non-Muslims.
By the end of this year, they hope to be distributing 400 tonnes of the powder across Malaysia with a clear focus on modern retail channels.
“The brand seemed to be snoozing so we came in with our own marketing proposal and since then we have been the exclusive distributor,” said Noraizuddin, who serves as SR Avenue’s business development director.
“We’ve been in the food market for more than 15 years so we understand the challenges they’ve been facing. We have mostly operated in the franchise retail market, which helped us because HiGoat has had a problem with counterfeit products that it wasn’t able to solve.”
By taking away distribution from mom-and-pop stores in the kampung, or rural areas in Malaysia’s heartland, in favour of supermarkets and organised retail, they have succeeded in being able to control the market for the product.
Previously, it was being distributed by stockists and agents, who by the nature of their businesses were helpless to cede control to whomever sells it. This in turn has prompted nefarious vendors to source cheap cow’s milk powder and package it as HiGoat brand.
Other goat’s milk brands have faced the same issue, with one of these suing a number of private vendors in the southern city of Johor Bahru, where it had found they were selling counterfeit products.
“In less than three days they managed to stop the practice by threatening to go to the courts. By suing them, the stores knew they were serious.
“Their approach was successful, but we also know our approach works,” explained Azhari.
With the issue of dodgy packs out of the way, the partners aim to revive the brand to its former glory. Having been a mainstay of Malaysian larders for some three decades, HiGoat’s popularity has been waning slowly over recent years.
They claim that nine out of 10 Malaysian would be familiar with the brand, with at least four either consuming it themselves or having a family member who does. The problem is, this share of the market has been ageing while younger people show little interest in HiGold’s product. Noraizuddin reveals their goal is to capture a new generation.
“It is essentially a product for Malays,” he said, referring to Malaysia’s Muslim ethnic group. “But we want to change the concept of that, as a distributor.”
By the end of this year, they hope that everyone in Malaysia will know HiGoat—as well as someone who drinks is.
“First we know that we have to build up the brand, and at the same time not be specific to any one race or religion,” added Azhari. Aside from Malays, 40% of Malaysia’s population is split between Chinese, Indian and native residents.
Choosing to operate exclusively through modern retail will have a positive knock-on effect, they hope. It is hoped the brand will gain more exposure among Chinese and Indians because supermarkets are not demarcated along racial and religious lines, as so many things are in Malaysia. It will be visible to all segments of society on modern retail shelves, where this was rarely the case in convenience stores previously.
“We don’t want it to be specific to any one race or religion—though the religious angle will always remain for Muslims. Even with sampling, we won’t only have Malays as the promoters, we will have Chinese and Indians doing this so all communities are represented.”
Ethnic Chinese consumers, who are largely lactose intolerant in Malaysia, will be a prime target for the owners of SR Avenue. Based on their experience—Azhari stresses no studies have been carried out yet—many consumers who struggle to drink cow’s milk without discomfort appear able to digest goat’s milk easily.
If the strategy goes to plan, besides hitting the 400-tonne distribution mark they have set themselves, the partners hope to increase distribution across the whole country, rather than focusing on the northern and eastern predominantly Muslim regions. They also want to become brand owners themselves.
They are confident they can achieve all their ambitions thanks to the intensive market research they have carried out over the last year to identify areas of potential.
They’ve learnt that they were right to depart the low-end, mom-and-pop market, to focus on higher demographic segments. They have also find that they must have all their distribution channels raring to go before they can begin to market on a much larger scale.
“We have most of this laid out already,” Azri said. “The market is ready for us, and understand what we have to do. So our next step is now just to dive in and get our feet wet.”