In 2014, Mr Andrew Lim and Mr Walter Oh, Boxgreen’s two co-founders, were management associates at DBS Bank, working long hours into the night. It was during those late nights, chained to their desks, trying to find something to eat, that the idea of Boxgreen was born.
Since eateries around the area would be closed by the time the pair went looking for food, they made do with standard vending machine offerings like sugared peanuts and chocolate bars.
“That was when we realised that there are probably many like us out there, working late into the night and reaching for unhealthy snacks because there were no healthier options on hand,” recalls Mr Lim.
On a whim, they set up a snack subscription website Boxgreen, featuring easy, accessible, low-cost snacks such as pretzel trail mixes and vegetable chips.
To their surprise, interest in their offerings spread like wildfire through their office. Within a month, many of their colleagues signed up, and they even had a government agency reach out with interest.
With no manufactured products of their own, Mr Lim and Mr Oh fulfilled orders by personally purchasing and delivering healthy snacks such as roasted nuts and gourmet chocolate bars from NTUC Fairprice and local vendors.
They conducted their own informal market research as they hand-delivered orders, helping the duo better understand the appeal of their service. Some customers ordered the snack items for loved ones who worked late and others for their kids to bring to school, reminisces Mr Lim.
Mr Lim and Mr Oh believed they were onto something – a growing demand backed by more than just mere convenience. People wanted snacks but also wanted to be healthy. And so, Boxgreen married the two.
Learning on the job
As neither Mr Lim nor Mr Oh had any experience or knowledge of F&B operations, they embarked on their journey with “lots of R&D, experimentation and sampling”, steadily navigating the steep learning curve.
The pair left their banking careers a year later to work full-time on Boxgreen. A third partner, Mr Wong Weng Fai, joined the start-up around the same time, bringing with him technological experience from working with regional start-ups.
While the company was profitable from the get-go, the ambitious founders knew that they had to evolve. Instead of simply curating healthy snacks from grocery stores, they decided to produce their own, focusing on making them fun, accessible and nutritious.
These original products had greater appeal to more health-conscious customers who require low-sodium or zero-sodium snacks, as well as those looking for unusual snack items not easily found on supermarket shelves.
Mr Lim shares: “We wanted people to realise that healthy snacking involves more than just eating bags of almonds and cashews. It can be fun and even indulgent in moderation.”
The team began experimenting with unique ingredients such as lotus seeds, longans and goji berries – healthy options rarely seen in snacks – and locally popular flavour profiles featuring different dried fruits and chocolates.
After extensive experimentation, Boxgreen now retails more than 20 types of healthy snacks. Interesting localised treats include a “cheng tng” trail mix and brown sugar broadbeans.
A testament to the company’s commitment to creating healthy options is their ongoing work with food scientists and nutritionists to produce a range of new products, including snacking nut butters, which are all-natural and free of emulsifiers.
Feeding bodies, fuelling purpose
Not only does Boxgreen aim to revolutionise the snack industry, but it also strives to use food as a force for good.
In 2015, the company committed to a one-for-one meal initiative to support a local soup kitchen, Willing Hearts. “When customers bought a snack box from us, we would donate an amount equivalent to a meal for those who were having difficulties getting food every day,” explains Mr Lim.
Customers were quick to rise to the occasion, and the team was so heartened by the response that they continued the initiative for the next five years.
Deciding that they wanted to make a greater impact on the community, Boxgreen implemented an inclusive hiring policy. In 2019, the company located its latest packing facility and warehouse within Changi Prison Complex, where each day, around 10 selected inmates worked as snack packers, with four full-time supervisors.
“As part of our inclusive hiring policy, we encourage inmates to join our business upon their release. We believe that everyone deserves a second chance at life, as well as the opportunity to regain their sense of dignity and belonging in the community,” he emphasises.
To date, Boxgreen has hired around five former inmates in their logistics operations, and have trained and worked with more than 80 inmates in their workshop in Changi Prison Complex who help to blend, sort and pack the snacks.
Knowing that their work empowers others has instilled a sense of purpose within the company and its staff. Mr Lim says, “Doing business should be more than just a vehicle to make money – it can also be a force for good.”
Certified B-corp, Boxgreen also does its part to protect the environment by ensuring that they keep plastic use to a minimum, and all paper packaging is made from recycled material and is 100 per cent recyclable.
For example, the fruit pulp from its brand of cold-pressed juices does not go to waste. “For a while now, we’ve been trying to repurpose fruit pulp instead of just throwing it away,” says Mr Lim.
“We’ve since learnt it could be converted into useful biomaterial and have been running trials with a local fly farm to turn it into compost and create a closed loop. We are aiming to kick this off by the end of the year.”
Streamlining the business for expansion
Like many businesses, Boxgreen has been greatly impacted by the pandemic. As a bulk of their customers are corporate clients, the business could no longer rely on stocking up pantries and vending machines in offices. With more employees working from home and stricter rules about entry into office buildings, Boxgreen had to figure out another avenue for its snacks.
The business pivoted swiftly to address the changing needs and circumstances of its customer base by providing care packages for home-based workers through their online platform, as well as offering promotional codes for companies to supply remote staff with healthy snacks.
As digital natives, the founders also leveraged smart solutions for efficiency. We run almost every aspect of the business in the cloud, says Mr Lim.
“We were previously using a mix of online and offline systems to issue invoices and do book-keeping. But as our business scaled and the processes became more complex, we needed an accounting system, for example, that could work to capture all the information in one place and integrate with our other cloud systems.”
That led them to turn to digital accounting software Xero, which provides them with real-time visibility on the state of the business and now “plays a crucial role in our day-to-day operations”.
Boxgreen’s inventory system is entirely cloud-based and linked with the Xero system – which means every transaction can be reconciled with the company’s accounts immediately and seamlessly.
Mr Lim explains: “The integration with Stripe, our payment gateway, allows us to issue invoices to customers with a link for payment. Once payment is made, it is automatically reconciled with our books. This avoids a lot of manual work and confusion. Billing is also a breeze, as all data from our purchase orders to our manufacturing costs are captured and reflected within the system.”
Such efficiency, he adds, will be a springboard as Boxgreen looks to expand overseas eventually. Currently, it partners with businesses in Thailand and Malaysia while continuously seeking overseas distributors.
In spite of the challenges of managing a subscription service remotely, Mr Lim is confident that Boxgreen will continue to scale as it expands its distribution channels through supermarkets and online marketplaces directly in the future.
This means taking a risk, but that is precisely the advice he wants to give other small business owners. He surmises: “Rather than mulling over it and never doing anything about it, take the leap – I did, and I have no regrets.”