If you’ve been into keeping fit with the latest health trends, the ketogenic or keto diet would have popped up on your radar.
In what seems like an extremely controversial way to eat healthy, keto claims to help you lose weight quickly when you consume more fat.
But, the key is that this high-fat intake must be coupled with very little carbs.
When done consistently, it’s supposed to put your body in a state of ketosis, which makes you switch from burning carbs to burning stored fats for energy, along with other health benefits.
Although the trend has picked up, there still aren’t many places in Singapore offering food options that fit its strict requirements.
Enter Ketomei, Singapore’s first keto-focused meal subscription service.
Just launched last December, the local startup wants to help more people succeed with their diet by bringing keto meals conveniently to their doorstep.
They very kindly sent us a sample of meals to get a taste of the Ketomei experience!
My Crash Course In Keto
According to Ketomei’s website, each of their meals contains “about 60 to 80 per cent fat, 20 to 35 per cent protein, and only 5 to 15 per cent carbs”.
The six meals I received ranged from local flavours to popular cuisines like Western and Korean food.
Out of the selection, it was easy to pick my favourites. Of course, food is subjective, but I felt that Ketomei’s chicken rendang, garlic butter salmon and lemon paprika chicken leg were a treat.
On the other hand, I wasn’t a fan of the baked barramundi (I usually like fish, but it was too fishy even for me).
Since it wouldn’t be fair to talk about results after only eating six keto meals for three days, I decided to note down my observations instead. I learned a lot from this short experience, if I say so myself.
In between realising how tasty keto can be and learning interesting ways you can replace rice, one thing was most apparent: Keto requires a lot of dedication.
It struck me that keto food tends to be rich, as its high-fat content may be carried by ingredients like cream and oil. It tastes great at first, but ‘indulging’ like this every day will take some getting used to.
I also noticed that I got very thirsty, and that my cravings for sweet snacks and drinks spiked like crazy.
Outside of my lunches and dinners from Ketomei, admittedly, I didn’t do well in keeping my breakfast and snack choices within keto rules.
That brings me to another point: Keto requires you to be all in.
It’s not something you can do just ‘most of the time’, because you need to maintain specific levels of fat and carbs to be in ketosis, and you won’t benefit much otherwise.
It’s safe to say this opened my eyes to the amount of determination people put in for better health!
Familiar with these challenges himself, Ketomei founder Constant Tong says he is trying to make it easier for people to get into keto.
By providing consistent meal plans and reducing the frustration of sourcing for keto-friendly food, he believes “people [will] gravitate to an experience they enjoy”.
From Techy To Health Geek
Starting Ketomei was a deviation from Constant’s earlier career, which was nowhere near related to food.
The 52-year-old is a veteran in tech, who started out as a software engineer for Singapore Airlines in 1992.
Over the years, he clocked a wealth of experience leading product management at companies like Internet services firm EdgeMatrix and stock trading app TradeHero. He even co-founded a fintech startup in Shanghai.
At one point, Constant also dabbled (if you count six years as dabbling) in the gaming industry as a development director at Electronic Arts in Los Angeles — “a dream job for an avid gamer”, he tells us.
His last job was at Razer Fintech, where he was assistant vice president for the mobile wallet Razer Pay.
After all these years in tech, he admits that stepping into the unfamiliar food space was something he never thought he would do, although he jokes that he’s “a decent home cook”.
Constant’s passion for keto began when he first tried the diet two years ago as a method to “get rid of stubborn belly fat”.
As he was living in the US at that time, there weren’t many obstacles in his way.
The availability of low-carb options in America made it “relatively easy to stay on the diet”, and he was thrilled to find himself losing weight, gaining more energy and focus, and getting better sleep.
But when I moved back to Singapore for a job, I found it challenging to stay on keto since carbs are the main staple of our local food.
Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei
Being away for a long period made him deeply miss local favourites like chicken rice and beef rendang. And to give them up, even in the name of health, would be completely un-Singaporean.
Realising that many other “keto-ians” in Singapore shared the same struggle, he was inspired to provide a solution to their problems.
The First Steps To Creating Ketomei
One of the first things Constant did was to gather the right people who could fill his gaps in knowledge about food and nutrition.
“I was lucky to be introduced to Chef Andrew Ng, [who has been on keto for half a year himself], through an advisor,” he says.
He also got to know Kelly Tan Peterson, whom he considers to be “the most prominent keto influencer in Singapore and Malaysia”.
With an award-winning keto recipe book published and a strong online following over six years, he made sure to get her on board as Ketomei’s nutritional advisor.
Next, Constant made the decision for Ketomei to operate as an online food delivery service with its production in a cloud kitchen.
While he’s certain that dieters would be happy to have more dine-in joints serving keto, the cloud kitchen and delivery model ensures that he can reach more people with lower rental overheads.
He shares that he invested a “low six-figure amount” that was less than what it would have cost to open a restaurant.
As he started to put the business together, Constant soon realised this new industry was a steep learning curve.
“Setting up a commercial kitchen to cook in batches for a few hundred people [at a time] is not straightforward,” he says.
With his team, he worked on ironing out every detail from sourcing for ingredients to creating their menu, developing a system that ensures food stays fresh after delivery, and setting up website with subscription capability.
To him, one particularly challenging task was “creating keto versions of Asian recipes”.
But this unique problem eventually led them to interesting solutions, such as using cauliflower or konjac jelly (made of a plant root) to recreate grains of ‘rice’.
Serving Over 5,000 Meals In Less Than 2 Months
With their website and kitchen up and running smoothly, Ketomei launched to their first batch of customers through a tasting event on Christmas 2019.
They then delivered their very first meals on 4 January 2020.
Constant shares that response was “overwhelmingly good”, with more than 250 customers signed up for recurring subscriptions, and over 5,000 meals served in less than two months.
In this period of time, they also “crossed six figures in sales”.
For a new business barely three-months-old, Ketomei is moving forward at full steam, and Constant says they’re already starting to face some “growing pains”.
For one thing, they’re already in need of team expansion, and are also looking for investment to help them build a larger central kitchen to keep up with demand.
Constant believes there are “over 100,000 people” who are into keto in Singapore, and that Ketomei is well-poised to serve them.
Food delivery, cloud kitchens and the health food movement are three major trends that are changing F&B rapidly, and we are at the right time to fully leverage these trends to our advantage.
Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei
Beyond providing keto meal plans, he also has his sights on building an app that will help customers monitor their progress towards their personal health goals.
Referencing DNA test kits and smart weighing scales that have been popular recently, he thinks health technologies like these are making it easier to understand what our bodies need.
“My ultimate goal, eventually, is to provide personalised nutrition,” he says.
“When it comes to nutrition, everyone is different and will require a different diet plan to achieve the most optimised results.”
It’s not just people who already know about keto that he wants to reach.
“I knew we were solving a problem that keto enthusiasts would be willing to pay for,” he explains. “But I want to bring keto mainstream, to reach the people who need it most.”
Be it for weight loss or to help people cope with conditions like diabetes and cancer, Constant hopes that — together with proper medical advice from doctors — Ketomei can improve lives.
Featured Image Credit: Ketomei
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