SUBANG JAYA, Dec 7 — Salted egg yolk flavoured chips are a dime a dozen these days.
Besides sprinkling the umami rich dust on potato chips, other vehicles are fair game — from banana and tapioca chips to cookies and soft buns.
But no entrepreneur worth his salt (or salted egg yolk, even, if you’d pardon the pun) would be put off by existing competition. There is always a market segment or product type that hasn’t been tapped, if one looks hard enough.
That is what Kantin Lab co-founder Vincent Low believes in. The 32-year-old mass communications graduate has helped shepherd the company to gain a foothold in what appears to be a saturated market.
How did he do it? With more salted egg yolk chips, albeit in the form of crinkle cut chips. That one textural difference has been enough to set Kantin Lab’s offerings, which also includes the very Malaysian flavour of nasi lemak, apart from the crowd.
Low shares, “We simply wanted to produce a product that all Malaysians can proudly hold and recommend to their friends. If you look at the local mass-premium/premium snacks segment, it’s not as developed and mature as in other countries. For instance, in Singapore you have brands like Irvins, The Golden Duck and others that offer premium flavours and packaging.”
Tying all that colourful packaging — yolk yellow for the Salted Egg flavour, sambal red for the nasi lemak version — together is a catchy brand name.
Low explains, “We all enjoyed our canteen food back in those days. Affordable, delicious food. And the word ‘lab’ is associated with experimentation, being adventurous, exploring new stuff, and we felt that is in line with what we are aspiring to achieve, hence Kantin Lab.”
Kantin Lab started with only one product in 2019, the Salted Egg Crinkle Cut Chips. Low continues, “We then launched the Nasi Lemak flavoured chips a year later in 2020 where we incorporated real ikan bilis and kacang tanah. Typical ingredients that you’d find in a pack of nasi lemak but are completely unheard of when it comes to chips.”
Unique or otherwise, flavours alone aren’t enough to court customers or solidify a market following. This is where Low’s prior experience at a local snacks company helped, as he positioned Kantin Lab as the first Salted Egg Crinkle Cut Chips in Malaysia.
Low says, “I was fortunate and grateful in the sense that I used to work for Mamee Double Decker, so I got quite a fair bit of exposure in regards to every aspect of the New Product Development (NPD) process when I was working there.”
Even with a strong marketing campaign, the process to create their signature Salted Egg Crinkle Cut Chips had to begin in the kitchen. Low recalls, “There was the lengthy process of trial and error as we experimented numerous times to get the right taste profile... but it wasn’t as daunting as compared to someone with zero background.”
Shipping quickly — bringing the product to market as soon as it’s viable — was critical to gauge customer response. Once the first product found success, it was time to roll out the next one, to slowly but surely build Kantin Lab’s product line and offer customers more options.
“The second flavour — our Nasi Lemak Chips — was relatively easier to create since we had the proper facilities and knowledge of NPD by then,” Low shares. “We’ve always wanted to focus on introducing local flavours because we have a lot of amazing food and flavours in Malaysia that deserve to be tried by more, especially for people outside of Malaysia.”
It wasn’t only product development that was a challenge. Manpower was another headache for the young start-up.
Low started Kantin Lab with three other co-founders, but he is the only one running the business full time; the others have their day jobs and help out over the weekends.
It’s an all hands on deck affair, especially when orders started picking up when they first launched. Then, Low shares, “We’d run the production on weekdays as well, after office hours. We’d usually end just before midnight so it was an exhausting period for all of us.”
Today Kantin Lab has a team of over a dozen staff and is still growing, with products available both online on their website as well as via more traditional retail outlets such as supermarkets and convenience stores, including Jaya Grocer and FamilyMart.
It’s a learning process, Low admits: “We are definitely still far from perfect but we are constantly improving, not just on the product quality, but also on other internal and external aspects such as the production efficiency, product innovation, customer experience and staff welfare.”
According to Low, disruptions in the supply chain during the lockdowns meant there were periods when they ran out of stock to supply to retailers. He explains, “Many of our suppliers were unable to supply us the raw materials for production due to shortages of staff. That left us no choice but to temporarily halt our production until the materials were available again.”
It is a painful situation when a business has roaring demand but is unable to fulfil it. Fortunately, that rough phase seems to be over, and Kantin Lab is revving up their operations to make up for lost time.
“We’ve just started to expand into Singapore and Taiwan recently. So the immediate focus for us is to build a solid foundation in those two key markets, and subsequently expand into other countries in the Asia Pacific region.”
Despite Kantin Lab’s aggressive push outwards, the company is far from finished with their home market. Low shares that they are in talks with several partners to expand their domestic distribution points while preparing to launch new flavours, possibly also venturing into a new product category.
He adds, “We’ve also collaborated with TeaLive to create a TeaLive edition Nasi Lemak Chips back in September, sold exclusively at their outlets and platform. That offered us very good brand exposure and credibility. With that as a stepping stone, we’re hoping to collaborate more in the future.”
Perhaps char kway teow or asam laksa flavoured crinkle cut chips next? The possibilities are endless.
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