“In short, we hope to bring ice to the Middle East,” laughed Tony Han, director of Kstar Group Pte Ltd based in Singapore.
Kstar carries a wide range of food products and ingredients, such as latte drinks, frappes, frozen yoghurt, fried ice cream, soft serve ice cream and ice flake or “bingsu” products, which include flavoured ingredients, topping powders, fruit purees and desert cups.
Han said that some of the unique flavours they have developed, especially for their soft serve, such as red velvet, sweet potato and cereal, are not yet available in the market.
According to Han, Kstar was first present in the Gulfood show two years ago. He said, that was the first time visitors there saw their ice flake or bingsu machine.
“There was a wow factor,” said Han.
“I’m surprised, two years later, people are still very new to this concept. This shows that the business and process in the Middle East hasn’t caught up to the big consumer potential.”
Han said this big potential for business is why Kstar wants to bring its holistic café dessert and beverage solutions and products to the Middle East — from ingredients to flavours to machinery.
He said, two years on, there are now more potential customers who are ready to adopt the products.
He expressed surprise that people in the Middle East still appear to be more familiar to hot desserts and not so used to cold desserts.
“That’s why we are working with a local partner here. The important thing in any market is to really understand the culture and their taste, and colour preferences and such,” said Han.
One hurdle Kstar has cleared is obtaining halal certification for all its food and ingredient products. Han said it took a year, and a lot of investment, in order to get their factory halal-certified.
The certifying authority is RACS, based in Dubai.
“Halal certification opens a door, including to export our products to countries such as Brunei, where you need the certification in order for them to import your products,” he said.
Kstar has also entered into a partnership with China company Besnow to manufacture Korean-designed and Chinese-manufactured frozen dessert machines.
Han said the company used to distribute Korean machines that cost at least about S$10,000 (about US$7,600).
However, with the food scene being highly competitive and with very high rental costs, people were not very receptive to buying expensive machines. There was a big demand for lower-cost yet reliable machines, and that’s where the company decided to come in to fulfil the market demand.
Han said its most recently developed soft-serve machine is the smallest commercial machine on the market, weighing only 70kg. It fits in markets such as Singapore where retail space is very limited.
Furthermore, Kstar is currently looking at automated self-serve machines, using pre-paid or stored value card.
The company is exploring possibilities with partners such as a convenience store chain that could sell a stored value card to customers, who could then use it to activate the machine for their frozen dessert, whenever they wish.
Han said the company is also in the process of trying to get a grant from government enterprise body Spring Singapore.
Kstar has a factory in Korea and about 50 employees based there. Its Singapore entity mainly handles distribution, and has eight employees.
In Korea, the company claims its food products are endorsed by more than 70% of cafes and food establishments. In Singapore, it supplies many Korean restaurants, various cafes, as well as larger corporate clients such as Marina Bay Sands restaurants and Universal Studios.
Kstar exports its products directly to customers in countries such as Australia, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Mongolia, Nepal and even the US.