Saturday, November 29, 2008

An educational visit to the Vitagen factory

Thursday 2.30 p.m. November 27, 2008

The Hands-on-Learning team on this trip comprises of 49 adults and children. The group made up of homeschoolers, school goers, parents and grand parents!.

We assembled and met in front of the Malaysia Milk factory/plant which also produces Marigold products in Section 19, Petaling Jaya near the Toyota Showroom and 3 Two Square row. To our surprise there were no parking space available for visitors, so we have to follow our own intuition to locate a free space.

Finally, we gathered at the video cum waiting hall and started at about 10 to 3.00 p.m. The Customer Relations Manager, Ms. Elina Koh, personally guided us along by starting up a general video introduction of how Cotra Enterprises S/B started to produce and market Vitagen in the late 70s. They celebrate their 30th anniversary this year. She explained that this plant supplies to the whole of Malaysia and they have another plant in Singapore. This plant in Malaysia produces 400,000 bottles a day.

The video also explained the processes involved in how to mix the milk base product with a lactobacillus culture from something Christiansen Laboratories from Denmark, sugars, food conditioner and real fresh fruit juice to produce the end product - Vitagen cultured milk drink.

They have now 6 flavours - LB, grape, orange, green apple, honeydew and the latest ... pineapple. Then came along the nutrition talk which explains the similarities to yoghurt.

After the presentation we were told that no photos and video can be taken once we are inside the plant. We were all made to wear a 'shower cap' in order to keep our hair to ourselves lest we want to share it with their customers(us)! It made us all look like factory workers in one way or the other.

So we queued up two by two like animals heading to an abbatoir. Must be careful too because heavy transporters are moving in and out of the plant hauling goods to be delivered. We do not want to delay our next batch of Vitagen do we?, so we moved on quite uneventfully to the next building. I guess we amused more factory workers than anticipated - quite like going to the zoo when the animals start to stare back and talk about us you know. Anyway my youngest in my arms felt like a celebrity and started to wave at them and what do you know, they waved back with a smile.

As soon as we enter the premises, we can't help but to feel a bit warm, then hot and humid. We had to stay between the 2 yellow lines much like queueing before boarding the Singapore MRT with the announcer saying - "please stand behind the yellow line" (repeat it twice). From the back I could not see our guide, just noise as our company before she emerges and start to speak loudly to explain to us the step-by-step process. She did this many times and even asked us to post some questions. I'm sure she has a pack of Dequadin in her pockets to soothe her throat.

She drew our attention to the left and we can see rows of stainless steel mini silos and vats. All the mixing is done here. The end product is sent to the right side to fill the bottles (unfortunately the filling process has already ceased by the time we visited the plant). They made one flavour at a time. Then the top sealed and from the conveyor belt, packaged into a mix of pattern with 'LB, green apple, grapes, LB, green apple' and next to it 'LB, orange, grapes, LB, orange'.

We saw Marigold products like fruit juice and yoghurt being packed too. This building is rather small and space waste is kept to a minimum, hence, good business practice. Oh my son's already fallen asleep on my shoulder.

As we could not proceed further, we had to do a 180 degree turn and march out the same way we came. Once back to the hall the air-conditioning revived our senses. I spoke to some children and none of them aspires to work in a factory. The company is gratious enough to serve more than tea. We also sampled something new from the Marigold product range. From my spectacle, some of these participants may have missed lunch or I could be wrong, the food must be very tasty. Check out the photos.

Before we made our journey home, Cotra Enterprises S/B ensured that we leave not empty handed. We were given door gifts - packs of Vitagen! Hooray! Even very old boys and girls got it. We then posed for a few photo with Ms. Elina before we thanked her and her employers for such a good visit.

Tip :

To calculate when was the bottle of Vitagen made, less 2 months from the printed expiry date.

p.s.* we had taken too few photos and missed the big picture. We all had our own accounts, what I have written in this blog is from my own point of view. Hope you have enjoyed your visit as much as I do. A word of thanks to the participants as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Homemade soy sauce

Saturday 11.00 a.m. November 23, 2008

The Hands-on-Learning team comprising 17 participants visited the home of David and Alicia in Taman United, Old Klang Road, K.L. David is a qualified accountant and is a remisier by profession, this is his own little project that he started 5 years ago.

This husband and wife team together with their 4 children manage a homemade soy sauce industry. They manage this venture by utilising what free space they had in their home.

The team is very interested with their original approach in selecting organic soy beans from Heilongjiang, Manchuria, China. Even the mould used in the second stage of the process is obtained naturally.

We could see that no artificial additives is used to speed up or influence the natural process. However this venture cannot be applied in large scale commercial terms as the natural process has its limitations.

The end product takes months to produce but a well worth wait. During the fermentation stages, constant monitoring is needed to avoid a spoilt batch. David explained that his work depends very much on the days of sunlight.

We were shown and given soy tainted salt crystals as a souvenir and also treated to taste fresh batch of soy sauce (extra virgin) and their other products like dark soy sauce and rojak paste (seaweed is used to replicate the taste).

The participants purchased some products with confidence of melamine and artificial ingredient free.

Tip :

Please do not throw your old soy sauce away, it can be revitalised by exposing the bottle to sunlight. Some old soy sauce may lose its fragrance but will produce a better aroma when is used for cooking. Just like wine.

p.s * some photos might have shrunk due to space constraint