For many of us, wanting to eat healthier and well is often well-intentioned, but difficult to follow through. Those working at home may give into cravings, and those who are back on their desks may give into their colleague’s invite to a shabu buffet.
In Bangkok, it can be expensive to be on the health track. Week-long meal plans cost thousands, and you simply may not have the energy to cook a meal in between Zoom calls and PowerPoint slides.
But for those wanting to remain disciplined, whilst still enjoying a filling meal, where can they go? Luckily, Bangkok’s latest healthy but delicious option for nutritious food has made its way into the scene. Enter Habit Foods, founded by siblings Lalina & Tanin Paisarnsrisin whose mission is to put a healthier spin on frozen food.
The Origin Story
The Paisarnsrisin siblings grew up with food and the restaurant business, with L’Oliva and Caffe Olives in Sukhumvit 36 as part of the family business. This is why starting Habit Foods was a natural decision for them.
“We saw how we were living and eating at home,” says Tanin. “We love cooking, it’s both sociable and therapeutic but it’s not realistic to cook every meal. Having a quick and easy meal at home or in the office should be easier in 2022.”
Both Lalina and Tanin were working at home together a lot, a result of the pandemic fueled WFH culture, and transitioning from other full-time jobs. It was then that they realized the food consumed on a daily basis was convenient, but not exactly full of the necessary food groups.
“Looking at the people around us, we noticed that this was a common problem. Convenience store meals replaced a home-cooked or non-processed meal and we thought this could be made easier.”
The jump from ideation to product creation was about six months. They leveraged the restaurant ecosystem that they both had access to. From meetings with food scientists to menu sampling with chefs, both Lalina and Tanin then began to narrow down the menu options and created a few staple dishes that they would often cook and freeze at home.
Currently, there are five flash-frozen grain bowl options from Habit Foods: Hot Chick, Vegan Bap, Yaki Beef, Super Salmon, and Tasty Tofu.
“The Yaki Beef bowl is currently our best-selling product,” says Lalina. “This is probably because it looks like your typical gyudon rice bowl, but is actually packed with nutrients and organic ingredients.”
Each bowl is around 420 calories, give or take with a high amount of protein, making it weight loss friendly but filling at the same time.
Orders are online only and extremely efficient. You can simply head over to Habit Foods website, click on the little shopping bag icon to pick and choose your bowl, or select a bundle of bowls to last a few meals. Then, pay and select your preferred delivery slot via an AI chatbot to have your meal delivered straight to your door.
Working with local suppliers
“We hope to make a difference in the local community by partnering with multiple small-scale, local farms and simultaneously grow into larger-scale yet conscious businesses. ” – Lalina. Habit grain bowls already consist of organic rice and vegetables from many different regions in Thailand.
The benefit of being small right now for Habit Foods, is the flexibility to try different things and experiment with new menu creations and multiple taste tests.
“We are also lucky enough to have resources on our hands, from chefs to distributor contacts because of our family’s involvement in the restaurant business,” says Tanin. “We benefit from being small and can order from local suppliers that are not currently equipped to supply the large corporations”
Although this may become more challenging as Habit scales, this provides an opportunity for Habit and local farms to together plan for demand and growth. The nature of frozen food also helps the produce maintain longer, as when a fresh batch arrives, it can be prepped and stored pretty much right away.
“We are very intentional about food waste, and the way Habit can portion and preserve food is an added advantage,” says Tanin.
The Frozen Food Debate
There’s always some misconception about frozen food. Just roam the frozen food aisles at your regular supermarket or convenience store. From frozen lunch staples to TV dinners and frozen waffles, there’s a stigma associated with frozen food; delicious but unhealthy.
During the six month R&D period, Tanin and Lalina also conducted some market research at multiple convenience stores to look beyond the labels and really study what’s behind the nutritional value of your regular frozen food meal of chicken krapao or kao pad.
“There’s a general misconception with frozen food,” says Tanin. “Food isn’t unhealthy because it’s frozen, but because frozen food menus are typically unhealthy, most are designed to be quick and affordable.”
This is where Habit Foods comes in, to be a convenient, quick yet nutritious option for busy urbanites who want to eat well and eat right, whilst having their freezer stocked. “By using flash freezing technology, choosing the appropriate cooking processes and ingredients, frozen food doesn’t have to compromise on taste either. We often forget that freezing is utilized even for foods that require some of the freshest ingredients, like the fish from your last sushi omakase.”
The Wellness Landscape
Since the pandemic, there’s been an uptick in brands and consumer-centric businesses that cater to wellness, whether it be food or skincare. Does this mean the landscape is packed with competition already?
“We’re not selling the idea of eating healthy per se, but we are delivering a practical solution in helping people eat better with added convenience,” says Tanin. “People already know what healthy eating consists of, we’re just providing a more convenient way to make it happen.”
Habit Foods is positioning itself as another viable option for those days you want to eat right, and you can store the rice bowls for as long as six months in the freezer at home.
“If you factor in the time it takes to shop for ingredients, prep, cook and clean, all while trying not to waste food, it can take up a lot of valuable time,” he says. “Habit is entering the landscape as an efficient option.”
One thing we noticed about the rise in wellness as a business, is that it’s typically first catered to a niche community in Bangkok with higher spending power. This can make it challenging to scale a business beyond friends and family.
“We are conscious of that fact, and although Habit Foods started selling to friends and family within our first few weeks, now the majority of our sales are from other regular customers and discoveries on Instagram,” says Tanin. A Habit Foods bowl starts at THB165, and this is affordable enough to incorporate into a weekly staple at home.
“We have about 30 grams of protein in each bowl, high nutritional value from all-natural ingredients and we focus on using seasonings that add plenty of flavor without the need for excess sodium or any MSG,” says Tanin. “We’re proud to sell at higher prices than traditional convenience store frozen foods because of the higher nutritional value we deliver, not only because of the more relevant brand positioning we have.”
The feedback so far
Beyond friends and family, the majority of customers have discovered Habit Foods from Instagram, and both have learned a lot from proactive feedback.
“The most common feedback for Habit Food customers is how much convenience it provided,” says Tanin. “There are always some meals where people have little control over, and for a lot of people, we’ve become that high-quality solution.”
Customers have also been surprised at how Habit Food’s frozen food bowls look and taste like a freshly cooked, proper meal.
“What we’ve seen is also a high level of recurring customers,” says Tanin, “from their orders, it’s clear that Habit Foods has become part of their lifestyle, and that’s great to see, especially knowing that our meals are likely to be healthier than other alternatives”
So, what’s next for Habit Foods? Whilst they will maintain and grow the existing rice grain bowls to a larger customer base, the founders are also planning to add other menu options.
“We’re looking to expand into breakfast menus, snacks, and smoothies,” says Lalina.
For those looking to add more delicious nutrition to their daily desk lunches, check out Habit Foods and order directly from the website. Meal delivery times can be scheduled on the day.