Beacon Chicken, Malaysian healthy poultry brand history

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Chicken. What’s not to love about it? Sure it might seem boring, but it’s versatile and affordable, and circumvents common dietary restrictions especially in a multicultural country like Malaysia.

However, if you’ve shopped for chicken before, you’ll notice that there are products nowadays that are “free-range” or “antibiotic-free”, which suggests that other run-of-the-mill poultry options may be chicken that’s injected with antibiotics and growth hormones.

One brand that’s going against the grain (quite literally) in Malaysia is Beacon Chicken. Describing itself as “always the healthier choice”, this halal-certified chicken claims to be free of hormones, antibiotics, and heavy metals.

To understand how this chicken even came to be, we need to get to its metaphorical egg—Beacon Hospital.

Chicken even cancer patients can eat

The story starts in 2010, when Mary Chen bought over Wijaya International Medical Centre, which was eventually renamed Beacon Hospital. Here at Beacon Hospital, one of their specialities is oncology—the study and treatment of cancer.

Image Credit: Beacon Hospital

If you look up whether or not cancer patients can eat poultry, you may find see some differing answers. One reason for why it may be dangerous is because certain harmful antibiotics in animal feed may pass from the chicken meat to humans.

While there are studies that show no links between chicken and cancer, the bottom line is that there are still doubts out there that persist.

In that case, you might think, better to just stay off chicken, then.

But Mary wasn’t ready to give up. Rather, the founder wanted to bring her patients a sense of hope through chicken. Or, to be specific, through chicken essence.

In Chinese culture, chicken essence is considered a traditional remedy that helps with physical and mental fatigue. Beyond that, Mary understood the emotional strength a bowl of pure chicken essence may bring.

At first, she decided to visit the morning market every day, personally picking out kampung chicken that could be turned into essence. But she was confronted by the doctors who asked whether she could truly guarantee and prove that the chicken was safe to consume.  

Unable to answer, Mary realised that a failproof solution would be to farm chicken herself.

Feeding the chickens to feed the people

Putting together a team of technicians, breeders, and experts, she went into exploration and ended up spending ten years conducting R&D to create a specially formulated feed.  

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

This special feed is made with ingredients such as seaweed, moringa leaves, mulberry leaves, hawthorne, herbs, chrysanthemum, and more.  

The result is something that supposedly provides the fowls with the optimal nutrition needed to produce high-quality meat, while increasing the blood vessel and heart strength in the chicken.

Not using growth hormones in the chicken also means that Beacon Chicken takes longer to farm their poultry. On top of that, Beacon Chicken claims to give the chicken more floor space than the conventional farm, and even has staff members walk the chickens every morning to ensure they’re getting the steps in.

Overhead shot of Beacon Chicken’s facilities / Image Credit: Beacon Chicken

All these extra efforts mean extra costs. To begin with, it would be very costly to have all these operations just to end up supplying the cancer patients at Beacon Hospital.

Thus, to achieve economies of scale, Mary knew that they had to open the chicken up to the masses.

Commercialising the business

This fascinating history behind Beacon Chicken was relayed to me by Andy Chew, the CEO of Beacon Mart Group of Companies.

Beacon Mart is a direct result of the commercialisation of Beacon Chicken in 2019, a year before the pandemic lockdowns occurred. Because of the restrictions, Beacon Mart became an ecommerce platform selling Beacon Chicken, as well as other healthy foods.

Image Credit: Beacon Mart

By 2021, the team decided to kickstart physical locations. This was when they noticed many people were jobless due to the market conditions.

“So the second intention came, which was offering jobs to the community,” Andy explained. “In all our outlets, we have no foreign workers. And we have 28 outlets as of today.”

Andy also shared that employees are paid above market averages, offering a base salary of RM2.5k for their retail workers with incentives to boot.

Image Credit: Beacon Mart

The CEO shared that for 2024, the mart is looking to expand to a whopping 50 outlets, all of which will be self-owned rather than franchised. Moreover, these stores will be self-funded.

While the Beacon brands started off with funding from Mary herself, Andy said that they’re all independent and self-sustainable.

Aside from their own marts, Beacon Chicken supplies to smaller grocery outlets to support their local businesses.

From farm to plate

On a Friday morning, I met up with Andy at a chicken rice stall. Not just any chicken rice stall, of course, but Beacon’s Chicken Delights.

That’s right, they have their own chicken rice stall.

“It was always in the roadmap,” Andy said about venturing into the F&B realm.  

Here, Andy lets me try their chicken essence—the reason why the whole exploration started.

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

Aside from the golden essence, I also tried their Hainanese steamed chicken, pumpkin porridge, and half-boiled eggs. The majority of the ingredients (including the eggs) are from their own supply.  

The verdict? It was delicious. The porridge was incredibly wholesome with corn, pumpkin, and tender chicken strips, making each spoon well-balanced with just the right amount of flavour and texture. The half-boiled eggs, which I ate without any additional seasoning, was creamy with a sweet edge.

Image Credit: Vulcan Post

I only have compliments for the steamed chicken as well, which was juicy and savoury. The condiments were the cherry on top.  

Creating its own ecosystem

But the Beacon story doesn’t end there.

There’s the hospital, then the chicken, then the farm-to-table chicken rice restaurant.

But imagine my surprise when Andy told me that the restaurant next door, Seeds Origin, was also from their group.

Beyond chicken, Beacon also has its own seafood arm through GroforU, which sources their catch from Sabah, tapping into the fish in the Celebes and Sulu Sea.

“Our catchphrase is clean water, healthy fish,” Andy elaborated. The fish are wild-caught, gutted, then immediately cryo-frozen and shipped over to preserve the freshness.

Under Beacon Eco Farm, the group also farms its own greens. And don’t forget Beacon Resort where the team just had their retreat.

Image Credit: Beacon Mart

“We are doing a lot of things silently,” he opened up. “Hospital, lab, pharmacy, osmosis spa, resort tourism, wellness, dieticians, TCM, the mart. It’s one whole ecosystem running.”

Although the story started with just chicken, it’s clear that the group have their eyes set on bigger targets. The team’s ambition can be best observed through Beacon Mart’s rapid expansion. In the past week alone, there have been two store openings.

Image Credit: Beacon Mart

“We are not fighting against the normal retail market, we’re fighting the giants, the majors,” Andy shared. “We’re talking about multi-billion industries.”

Breaking into these well-established industries may not be easy, but with a focus on quality products at reasonable price points, the Beacon team believes they stand a chance of shining through the noise.

  • Learn more about Beacon Chicken here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Beacon Chicken / Vulcan Post

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