SMU Alumni Entrepreneurs Help Nourish Frontline Healthcare Workers in Fight Against COVID-19

By the SMU Social Media Team

Amid the extensive media coverage on the gloom and doom surrounding the COVID-19 situation, stories on community efforts to uplift spirits and lending a helping hand to the needy are cheering rays of sunshine. And SMU graduates, Anna Haotanto and Brian Chua, are spearheading one such initiative. The two are the respective Chief Marketing Officer and Director of Gourmet Food Holdings (GFH)—an investment firm specialising in the food and beverage industry.



Together with Zouk Group and Motherswork, GFH pledged to donate 2,500 food items to healthcare workers in Singapore, which were delivered by Grab in April to healthcare workers across the island, for their lunches and dinners. GFH’s contributions included 500 pho sets from Vietnamese chain Mrs Pho, and 500 rice sets from Japanese ramen chain Tsuta. Both chains are run by GFH.

“We are immensely grateful for these everyday heroes who have worked tirelessly around the clock to keep Singapore safe,” says Anna. “This is a small way in which we, as Singapore companies, can show our appreciation and spread positivity. Our fight against COVID-19 may be a long one and we believe this is a time to call for unity among Singaporeans to overcome the challenges ahead of us. All the CEOs of the domestic businesses (involved in this initiative) are my close friends and we have always been thinking of ways to give back. This was the perfect chance.”



Anna and Brian did not meet when they were studying in SMU (she was a Bachelor of Business Management graduate, while he earned a Master of Science in Applied Finance), but rather when they became fellow honourees of Singapore Tatler’s Generation T initiative, which recognises young trailblazers creating positive impact in Asia.

That said, their shared values as SMU alumni have ignited a shared desire to serve the community during these trying times. Offering help and support in whatever ways they can is something that was ingrained in them during their time in SMU, they say. “The joy we get from doing good is immeasurable,” says Brian. Adds Anna: “Food nourishes the body and soul. A lot of us are very stressed out, especially the healthcare workers. Eating properly helps our health and immunity.”

Another SMU value: staying agile and attuned to new contexts and opportunities. That was the impetus behind GFH for Brian, who had built up his experience in the food sector through his family business Hersing Corporation, a brand managing company. “The initial idea started through a conversation with a friend experienced in the private equity space. We realised we had the unique know-how of spotting brands with growth potential, and building and scaling F&B brands,” he says. “We spent a year speaking to F&B owners and realised that there was a gap for operators in terms of operational support and funding. GFH was borne out of a desire to fill that gap and to help growing F&B brands expand internationally.”

When Anna, who hails from a finance background, moved into the new industry of F&B, she found the learning curve to be steep, but very interesting. Her knowledge of finance and media (she is also the founder of financial literacy platform The New Savvy) has come in handy. “In essence, with every business, we always have a framework for assessing it,” she elaborates. “Firstly, we look at the brand’s store track record. We would like to see a brand with a competitive advantage, which could be a killer product or experience. We also analyse the brand’s following through market surveys and social media analytics.”

Like all F&B operators right now, they are facing great challenges from the COVID-19 situation. “Mrs Pho and Tsuta have lost all dine-in customers and sales have fallen tremendously,” reveals Brian. As they work on innovating quickly to increase revenue from takeout orders, Gourmet Food Holdings has also spent about S$10,000 and at least 100 man-hours on the food delivery initiative for healthcare workers.

There are silver linings to be found. For starters, the food delivery project has been a test of their capabilities, and the GFH team has risen to the occasion by seamlessly coordinating with the other local enterprises involved, planning operations, and liaising with the hospitals and the Ministry of Health on deliveries.

Anna and Brian are also optimistic about how the F&B industry will evolve in the wake of COVID-19. A swifter embrace of technology, more efficient supply chains, and better welfare for contract workers are some possible positive outcomes, they speculate.

For now though, everyone needs to keep their spirits up in the eye of the storm, and Brian reveals that there are more morale-boosting initiatives in the pipeline. “We are definitely open to collaborating with other companies, and we have a project in the works that might just be a game-changer to the landscape of the circuit breaker period.”

And we can hardly wait for this next ray of sunshine.