Covid-19 silver lining: How a dessert cafe in Penang went fully online and now delivers ice cream nationwide

Opalyn Mok
·4-min read
Joey Kee, co-founder of Merry Ice Cream, a homegrown ice cream business that started out in Penang, March 1, 2021 . — Picture by Choo Choy May
Joey Kee, co-founder of Merry Ice Cream, a homegrown ice cream business that started out in Penang, March 1, 2021 . — Picture by Choo Choy May

GEORGE TOWN, March 9 — The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent movement control order (MCO) in 2020 and again this year hit many businesses, particularly the food and beverage industry, hard.

For Merry Ice Cream, a homegrown ice cream business that started in Penang, the pandemic happened just when they decided to close their retail business and switch to supplying events and online orders.

“We changed our business model to focus on supplying events, cafes and restaurants but when the MCO was imposed in 2020, all of this came to a stop so we decided to focus fully on our online platform,” company co-founder Joey Kee said.

Merry Ice Cream, known as Merry Me at that time, was already selling some of its ice cream online in 2019 for special occasions such as Christmas.

So, in March 2020, when all events came to a halt, they turned fully to selling their ice cream online and delivering directly to customers in Penang.

Kee said they were selling about 2,000 pints per month at that time and it slowly increased over the months.

By the end of 2020, they decided to rebrand the business to Merry Ice Cream and give it a modern, youthful look to appeal to the younger market.

Today, Merry Ice Cream delivers to almost all states in Malaysia and there are 14 to 16 flavours to choose from.

How it started

Merry Ice Cream’s unique local flavours. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Merry Ice Cream’s unique local flavours. — Picture by Choo Choy May

The ice cream company had its beginnings as a dessert cafe known as Ice Estate back in 2016 when they were serving nitrogen ice cream which was all the rage then.

The business, a partnership of six friends, expanded into three outlets within one and a half years and rebranded to Merry Me with a focus on desserts such as waffles and specialty French toasts.

“Then we started making ice cream and though our ice cream was popular, we were getting feedback from customers comparing our ice cream flavours to that of international brands,” he said.

To get flavours like Belgian chocolate meant they would have to import expensive high quality ingredients so they decided to focus on local ones in 2018.

That saw the introduction of the gula melaka and salted egg Oreo flavours.

“These were unique flavours so customers could not compare us with any other brands... we are now standalone,” Kee said.

This proved the right choice as the unique flavours have been a hit; the salted egg Oreo remains one of the top customer picks.

This was followed by other local flavours that invoke the taste of Penang’s traditional snacks such as tau sar pneah, kacang tumbuk, kaya toast, teh tarik, tau fu fah and white coffee.

“The inspiration for the flavours come from our childhood, all of us are in our late 20s and we want to bring back traditional flavours and evoke a sense of nostalgia with these flavours,” he said.

Today they have a research team that comes up with funky ice cream flavours daily.

“We have up to 16 flavours on the menu at any one time but our recipe bank has about 60 flavours so we rotate the flavours and introduce seasonal ones,” he added.

For this year’s Chinese New Year, Merry Ice Cream introduced the hawthorn berry sorbet, a throwback to that childhood favourite — haw flakes.

Each Merry Ice Cream flavour comes with chunks of the food it is infused with so the kacang tumbuk has actual kacang tumbuk in it, tau sar pneah has actual pieces of tau sar pneah and there were chunks of bread infused in rich sweet coconut flavours in the kaya toast ice cream.

Looking forward

Kee said the ice cream is made fresh each day and twice a week. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Kee said the ice cream is made fresh each day and twice a week. — Picture by Choo Choy May

This year, the company took the opportunity to expand to many more states and started delivering the ice cream to a majority of the states in West Malaysia.

From delivering 2,000 pints a month in the beginning of the MCO in 2020, Merry Ice Cream now delivers about 15,000 pints per month to customers all over Malaysia.

“The ice cream manufacturing plant is in Penang and we have set up a warehouse distribution centre in Kuala Lumpur,” Kee said.

He said the business grew during the MCO as they leveraged on social media and reached out to as many people as possible online in that period.

Kee said the ice cream is made fresh each day and twice a week they will send the stock to the warehouse in Kuala Lumpur to be distributed to retailers and online customers there.

Merry Ice Cream now plans to expand further by looking at other business models and offering various programmes such as licensing, retail and distribution programmes.

Other than delivering direct to individual online customers, they also supply to cafes and restaurants and offer a licensing programme, like a franchise, for those keen to start an ice cream business.

“We hope to introduce our ice cream in our neighbouring countries by the end of the year,” he said.

He added they are now establishing the Merry Ice Cream brand in Malaysia first before going international.

Go to merryme.co to order the ice cream online.


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