The year was 2012 when Desmond Ng and his two university friends (Amy Gong and Bryan Leong) started Amazebowls in Los Angeles, California.
Initially a food truck, the brand specialising in acai bowls and smoothies later grew into two full-fledged stores and a catering division. 11 years later, it’s still serving the people of California, just without Desmond in the picture now.
You see, he felt homesick and decided to head back to Malaysia for good in 2020.
It was a drastic change considering that he’s lived in the US since his university studies. But like any filial child, he wanted to spend time with his ageing parents.
So Desmond moved back to KL. But entrepreneurship called to him again, and he eventually opened up another healthy food business called POPMAN.
This time, converting the humble smoothie bowls into frozen popsicles with the hopes of being people’s go-to treat in place of ice cream.
Nourishing and tasty smoothie pops
At POPMAN, the goal is for consumers to have the option of treating themselves to something that’s both tasty and healthy. Hence, the brand’s three key principles when building its recipes are:
It has to be nourishingIt has to be minimally processedIt has to be undeniably tasty
This is because the brand is somewhat a spin-off of his first F&B venture.
Initially, the idea was to start a similar business to Amazebowls in Malaysia. But upon checking the KL market, he figured that it would be a better idea to start another venture.
Why? Because people here just don’t consume smoothies as religiously as LA locals. “I realised that people like my parents aren’t used to consuming smoothies,” he said.
“That’s when I thought turning my smoothies into popsicles could be a more approachable way for people like my parents to eat a little cleaner and healthier more often.”
So he got started on the R&D aspect shortly after.
Making the most with research and luck
It might seem simple enough, turning smoothie bowls into popsicle sticks. But the R&D process for POPMAN actually started back in early 2021, and the business was only launched about a year later.
As a matter of fact, Desmond told us that the brand’s R&D is still an ongoing process.
In line with POPMAN’s philosophy of being minimally processed, he doesn’t use stabilisers or preservatives. Currently, Desmond is looking into alternative ways to minimise freezer burns and ways to keep the popsicles longer.
Without any formal culinary training, he reported that he’s easily done more than a hundred experiments for the brand.
“It’s a lot of research, trial and error, and luck in meeting the right people who have been kind enough to share their experience and knowledge,” he humbly said.
Though challenging, Desmond is determined to make this full-time career of his work. Especially since he’s moved the home-based business to a central kitchen recently.
Nothing is “im-pop-sicle”
“I’m hoping to make healthy eating fun,” Desmond expressed to us. “I want it to be more accessible and enjoyable. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating unique and tasty flavours from clean and nourishing ingredients.”
Its menu consists of flavours like:
Mango Coco Yum Yum (with a mango and santan flavour profile)Big Bang Berry (with a strawberries and blueberries flavour profile)50 Shades of Earl Grey (with an Earl Grey tea and blueberries flavour profile)Berry Good Matcha (with a matcha and blueberry jam flavour profile)
They’re all made personally by Desmond, as he’s a one-man brand.
Once focusing on health-conscious teens and young working adults, the brand has since restrategised its business plan.
It turns out that the popsicles are better received by older folks and parents who prefer healthier snack options for their kids. Even so, it still aligns with Desmond’s brand mission.
Popping up in the local scene
One year and eight months into the business, the founder happily shared that the reception for POPMAN has been good so far.
And interestingly, despite my personal preconceptions, most of the brand’s customers are locals. Only a small portion of POPMAN’s consumers are foreigners.
This tallies with the current F&B market trends, where locals are starting to opt for healthier food alternatives like plant-based meat. “I think the health conscious market has been growing in Malaysia,” he concurred.
Noting his observations during pop-ups, Desmond shared that customers would typically purchase multiple popsicles to bring home instead of just the one to be eaten there and then.
As such, he plans to collaborate with other brands to sell POPMAN’s popsicles at more locations. “Hopefully, not on a consignment basis,” he quipped.
For now, though, the brand meets these demands online by offering discounts on orders above 12 popsicles.
Ambitious dreams to be the next Milo?
Making healthy eating more accessible and enjoyable is quite a noble venture, sure. However, I was curious as to what Desmond’s bigger goal is with the brand.
Because the reality is that the frozen desserts market in Malaysia is quite saturated. And some people, like myself, would argue that you don’t need to eat healthier desserts to be healthy.
But Desmond’s hope is that people don’t choose his popsicles just because it’s a healthier option.
“I see POPMAN as a cross between a boba store and an organic juice bar,” he explained. “I want to incite the same kind of excitement people have when they get boba. But instead, with popsicles that have health benefits.”
It’s ambitious and he acknowledged that wholeheartedly. Though he believes that it’s achievable by first focusing his efforts on kids.
“Perhaps the same way Milo infiltrated schools with their Milo trucks and got kids hooked on Milo at a young age. I dream of building a fleet of popsicle trucks in the future going round to schools and neighbourhoods introducing kids to a healthier snacking option.”
There’s still a long way to go, with the brand working on expanding its team and marketing efforts. But for the time being, you’ll find Desmond working hard to make that dream come true, one popsicle at a time.
Featured Image Credit: POPMAN