From copywriting to making unexpected palate-ticklers, this former adwoman turned her hobby into a thriving business. Read #PassiontoPaycheck story.
Wrapping up a well-paying 20-year career in advertising to becoming an entrepreneur selling bacon-based products must have taken some nerve. That is what Georgina Fernandez, co-founder of Five & Two Fine Foods, did when she realised that she was passionate about experimenting with food. Today, what began as a hobby to de-stress after work, has led to her founding an online company along with her husband, John Peter. Five & Two Fine Foods, based in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, is an artisan gourmet company that produces a range of bacon-based products such as Bacon Jam, Asian Bacon and Candied Bacon Stix. Its multi-faceted business model also offers innovative baked goods, daily meal options and party catering to its customer base. The best of all, all its culinary offerings are free of added preservatives, MSG (monosodium glutamate), and artificial flavouring and colouring.
It all started with Georgina’s instinctive appreciation of the art of cooking. However, around eight years ago she discovered this was something she really wanted to do. After a stressful day at work, she would unwind by playing with and matching seemingly unpairable ingredients to create something delectably quirky. This routine became a very pleasurable challenge for her as she felt excited, relaxed, and happy discovering a whole new creative process. One day, on a whim, she posted a creation on Facebook and that set the wagon rolling. She observes, “Food, being such a tangible, personal encounter, can create a very personal experience and a lasting memory for someone. It’s not something you see once and is forgotten. It’s experiential and idiosyncratic. And if it’s exceptional, it stays with you.”
Georgina has always had a flair for language and the arts since childhood, and it’s no surprise she found herself in advertising, even winning a copywriter profile. She says, “I may have traded words and design for cookware and recipes, but I still feel very creative and it shows in all our products.
It was her family’s unstinting support that encouraged her to leave the stressful and sometimes thankless world of advertising and apply her creativity in the kitchen. Her father and sister, who live in Mumbai, have been a constant source of encouragement through every experimented recipe and jar sold. Her husband played a big role in her transition from ‘Creative Director in the office’ to ‘Creative Director in the kitchen’. “He encouraged me, supported my passion and ate all my experiments! Truly, I couldn’t have done it without him.” She is eternally grateful to her late mother whom she wishes was with her today to see her success.
It takes a creative mind and a certain genius to meld two disparate elements into something workable. So the credit of introducing Bacon Jam to Malaysia goes to Georgina and John. Since people were used to pan-frying bacon and having it with breakfast, this novelty was met with much consternation until the duo decided to go to the field and let shoppers taste it before buying. They participated in many food bazaars, hours together on their feet, talking to and getting customers to taste the product and understand the concept. Again, this exercise truly tested their resilience: it takes enormous restraint to gracefully accept and smile when some people wrinkled their noses at this novel product and moved on without tasting. But one pattern became predictable – if visitors sampled it once, they were hooked. The challenge was in getting them to take that first bite. “It took several weeks of groundwork, persuasion, cajoling and taste-testing to get customers to buy into our idea and accept what we are offering. Perceptions had to be changed,” says Georgina.
Financially, she and John used all of their savings to start Five & Two Fine Foods and keep it afloat. Used to well-paying jobs, this slowing down was certainly painful. Impulsive spending was trimmed; many luxuries forgone. But the couple kept the larger picture in mind, reminding themselves daily that this would pay off in the long run.
They decided to keep their overheads low and manageable by going online so that they could invest into R&D. Innovative products, consistently great taste, quality, fair pricing and a customer-centric philosophy have been the critical success factors.
It’s now five years since the inception of Five & Two Fine
Foods. Looking back, Georgina is glad she and John never gave up. She believes they haven’t peaked yet. “When you go against the grain and introduce new and unheard of products into a market that is still largely quite traditional in its culinary habits, you are going to be swimming upstream. It takes a lot of patience and strong belief in what you are doing to dig your heels in and resist giving up,” she reflects.
“Nothing worth it is ever easy. Nothing can replace hard work. Also, a bright idea does not mean instant success. Sometimes a bright idea may not even work. It needs to be likeable, marketable and, most importantly, sustainable. A good idea must have legs. Else it remains an idea,” says the articulate Georgina. The ad veteran cautions that one has to resist the urge to be overly creative at times. “Market, sometimes, will not take to a product, no matter how delicious it may be. Product names and descriptors can create barriers too. It may leave you wondering why. But that’s the nature of this business. You never have all the answers.”
It is often quoted that Malaysians will go the distance to get their hands on good food. Georgina believes this “can find, will eat” attitude has brought Five & Two this far and hopes to reciprocate with her spectacular culinary ideas, year after year. She will continue to rely on social media and word of mouth, given the encouraging media attention their company has received. However, fully aware that one cannot remain complacent in the business of food development, she is learning and familiarising herself with new cuisines whilst furthering recipe development for Five & Two Fine Foods and third-party food producers and corporations. “I would like to be looked at as a culinary professional who not only helms her own company but also partners with others to further and develop their line of culinary offerings,” she says.
Currently, Five & Two Fine Food is trying to expand its reach within Malaysia by signing on exclusive distributors in other states. Its products have reached places as far flung as Norway and the company finds itself routinely delivering products to tourists from Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, China, USA and Europe. Some of its products literally have no competition at all, specifically the Asian Bacon line and the Candied Bacon Stix. Georgina and John are constantly on the lookout for global partners to take these products to a much larger audience.
The logo of Five & Two Fine Foods has its biblical roots in the miracle of the five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:13-21), a constant reminder that God always provides.
“Our faith dictates our corporate mandate of honesty, transparency in our dealings and responsibility to our customers. We believe we have a higher, all-seeing power to answer to and that integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” says Georgina fervently.