Gluten-free 'healthy' instant noodles seeking to disrupt Australian market after Woollies roll-out
Mr Lee’s Noodles have been introduced in supermarket chain Woolworths’ stores, and will further be rolled out in Metro stores and EzyMart very soon.
Harris Farm will also carry the noodles from August. Among others, the firm is in discussions with QE Food Stores and Countdown in New Zealand.
“Since launching early this year online, the demand for Mr Lee’s to be available locally has been hard to keep up with. We couldn’t have picked a better partner to bring our noodles to the nation than Woolies, an iconic Australian brand who are true believers in moving their customers to healthier food options,” said Greg Longhurst, director of Mr Lee’s Pure Foods AU.
“The amount of support we’ve had is unheard of, with the product going to over 800 stores following our launch.
“Shelves are stocked with four of our products: Hong Kong Street Beef, Coconut Chicken Laksa, Tai Chi Chicken and Zen Garden Vegetables, all confirmed at AU$4 per pot.”
“Since January 2018, in Australia, we are hitting sales volume target run rates of more than 100,000 cups per month within the first 12 months, with anticipated increase to 200,000 to 400,000 per month in the further 12 to 18 months,” Damien Lee, CEO and founder of Mr Lee's Pure Foods Co. Ltd told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Premium and healthy convenience
“We’ve worked hard to make sure each and every cup contains a restaurant-calibre dish, authentic in taste and texture to the oriental cuisine you’d expect from any top noodle bar,” said Lee.
Mr Lee’s Noodles uses freeze-dried ingredients, which retain most of the nutritional values, in contrast to dehydrated ingredients used in instant noodles or similar convenience foods.
The noodles do not have any artificial additives, preservatives, colouring or flavours. They are also certified low in sugar by Sugarwise, and are low in sodium, saturated fats and calories.
On top of these, the entire range of Mr Lee’s Noodles is certified gluten-free in the UK by Coeliac UK. The firm said, as the rules are stricter in Australia, it has two flavours that are officially classified as gluten-free, one as low in gluten, with one yet to be tested.
“We are planning to introduce only organic ingredients to our range, with additional plans to create more dairy-free flavours. We are also working towards having all the flavours gluten-free according to Australian regulations by September 2018,” Lee told us.
The free-range chicken and grass-fed beef used in their noodle products are sourced from Australian farms, while the rest of the spices and freeze-dried vegetables are sourced from Europe. The noodle ‘cake’ used to produce the noodles is sourced from Vietnam.
Lee said all of these have been chosen for their quality, supplier ethics and sustainability.
Lee, an Australian expat turned entrepreneur, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2014.
While he changed much of his diet to raw foods, he still retained cravings for noodles.
After going in remission, he said he wanted to bring a truly healthy, premium instant noodle to the world, what he calls “no nasties gourmet cup noodles”.
“Convenience needn’t come with compromise on healthfulness, and health needn’t be tasteless,” he said.
Mr Lee's Pure Foods was founded by Damien Lee and Graeme Hossie in the UK, in July 2015.
Mr Lee’s Noodles are currently being manufactured in two sites: in the UK for the UK and European markets, and in Australia for Australasian markets.
“What we didn’t expect was just how much of a need there was for healthier instant noodles — especially a vegan option — of which the feedback and press has been simply incredible,” said Longhurst, on the reception in Australia.
The firm is planning to launch two more flavours in Australia shortly: Warrior Fighting Shrimp and Dragon Fire Vegetables. Lee revealed to us that the firm is also planning to introduce another non-noodle healthy food product to the Australian market by the end of the year.
“We are intent on growing our range of products to provide healthier food options to accommodate different needs. For example, for breakfast, snacking, all-day meals, and so on,” said Lee.
The company is also targeting other markets in Asia-Pacific, especially Hong Kong, China, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan.
“Currently we are securing more retailers across the Australia and New Zealand. We are also planning to go to Asia shortly — imminently selling in a major hotel chain in Hong Kong in the mini bars,” said Lee.
For expansion, the firm is in discussions with wholesalers in Australia, New Zealand, India and Indonesia.
Mr Lee’s Noodles also has a digital vending machine that sells targeted products based on age, gender and ‘linger’ time, and which can accept cashless payment. The firm plans to roll them out across Australia by Q1 2019, especially in locations that may lack access to quick and healthy meals such as hospitals, military bases, universities and businesses.
It has also has contracts with Jetstar Airlines, Australian Defence Force food suppliers, and the largest catering firm, Compass Group.
Among various awards that Mr Lee’s Noodles has won or been nominated for, it has been nominated for Amazon’s Growing Business Awards as a finalist for Entrepreneur of the Year.