Photograph: Amelia Lee/ You Are Framed Photography

How a local artist helped a traditional soy milk business adapt

Sowing the seeds of change – turning an old-school business into one that's socially savvy

Fabian Loo

Established in 2004 by Alan Yoon, Beano, a store specialising in soy milk, has weathered its fair share of storms. First, there was the spike in prices of raw materials – soybeans, sugar, petrol. Then there was the Lehman Brothers scandal that affected economies around the world. And now, we have a generation-defining crisis that's sure to have ramifications for years to come.

“This time is something I’ve never come across before,” says Alan. “I thought those times were bad. But this? This time is worse.” 

Before the circuit breaker measures were announced, Beano would get the main bulk of its profits from selling soy milk to other businesses. But for a month since the stay-home measures were announced and dining out was banned, Beano’s business plunged to “less than 10 percent” of what it previously brought in.

“We were eating grass,” says Alan, referring to a phrase in Hokkien that describes a situation when there’s little to no money available. “There was a really drastic cut in revenue,” he adds.

Despite that, the business owner insisted on keeping his full-time staff employed and paying their full wage. They still continue brewing soy milk at 4.30am daily to ensure freshness, but the lack of business meant that by 8am, the workers would have nothing left to do for the rest of the day.

“It was very difficult,” says Alan.

A helping hand

Seeing how his business was suffering, a friend suggested that Alan look into social media advertising and connected him with someone he knew would be a great fit. 

“I can tell you I’m not a social media person,” says Alan. “But I’m always open to new ideas and willing to give it a try.” 

Enter Amelia Lee, an artist who runs her own studio, Sunshine and Love. Her job, besides crafting and painting, requires her to regularly post updates on her social media pages. “From the work that I do, I realised that I enjoy taking photos and crafting stories,” shares Amelia. So when approached to help Beano build up a social media presence, the digital native naturally agreed. 

“I could empathise with what Alan was going through,” says Amelia. “And being an artist myself, I do appreciate the handcrafted process behind Beano’s soy milk-making process.” 

She began by building Beano’s social media presence on Facebook and Instagram, and populated the feed with eye-catching photography and content about the soy milk creation process. She also designed thank-you cards that come with every order. 

The turning point came when Amelia shared a post about Beano on the ‘Hawkers United – Dabao 2020’ Facebook Group. With over 260,000 members to date, the page is a free platform for hawkers and other small food and drink businesses to advertise their delivery and takeaway options during this stay-home period.

“We didn’t expect the overwhelming support from the platform,” shares Amelia. Her post on Beano has since garnered some 322 reactions and over 90 shares.

Going digital

While gaining traction online was great, another problem soon emerged – that Beano’s rudimentary ordering process via Google Forms was getting too manual and time-consuming for the number of orders coming through. 

“I thought it would be irresponsible for me to let Alan manage the orders by himself,” says Amelia, who decided to streamline Beano’s ordering system for efficiency – and accuracy. 

“It was a very manual process, and we were clocking crazy hours,” shares Amelia. She even roped in her husband to help with the managing of orders, enquiries, and delivery schedules. 

They also enlisted the help of a friend’s son to tinker with coding up and automating the WhatsApp orders that came through. It worked for a while, but Amelia knew Beano needed a more sustainable, long-term solution. She approached her childhood friend who works as a digital marketer, to create an e-commerce platform that's easy to navigate – for both the consumers and Alan.

“It was a lot of calls and Zoom meetings to iron out the process that a consumer makes from the beginning to when they decide what they want, and even the customisation of sugar levels and order cancellations,” shares Amelia. 

On May 31, they launched Beano’s new website. Customers can now browse its full menu, arrange for deliveries, and make online payments via one easy platform. 

While it’s still too early to tell how effective the website is in bringing in sales, Alan shares that these days, there are enough orders “to keep the workers occupied”.

For Amelia, she’s heartened, and reminded, that the power of social media can be used for good. From her stint of helping Beano digitise, she has encountered supportive customers, and even one who bought soy milk for the cleaners working in a hospital. She says: “We have a lot of good people out there, and these are heartwarming stories that I will treasure.” 

“Without Amelia coming to help with the social media front, I can tell you I’ll still be greatly affected,” adds Alan. “I now realise how powerful social media is, and it’s a totally new ballgame for me.”

A cool bean

Before starting Beano in 2004, Alan was working long hours as a banker – almost seven days a week. “When I missed my daughter’s first birthday, I realised that something was wrong with my lifestyle,” he shares. Alan decided that he wanted to brew his own soy milk, and started Beano to create a preservative-free version made with non-GMO beans. “I wanted to create something that I can bring back for my own children to drink,” he says. Without preservatives, the products have a shorter shelf life. To combat this, brewing of Beano’s soy milk starts at 4.30am daily, and a fresh batch of its beverage is usually ready by 9am – and will reach customers no later than 2pm, leaving plenty of time in the day to enjoy a sip of its creamy concoction.

  • Outram

Try its signature creamy beverage ($1.80) made fresh daily, or have it as a beancurd dessert ($1.50) that’s made by curdling soy milk with fruit acid imported from France. Beyond these traditional treats, Beano also makes a pudding-like jelly beancurd that comes flavoured with almond ($2), chocolate ($2), and bandung ($2), alongside gut-friendly kombucha ($15) fermented using organic white sugar. 

Minimum order None
Delivery fee $6, free for orders above $40
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