The store known as Kedai Asia is situated in Al Rawda, Jeddah, a Saudi Arabia neighbourhood. With 700 products available, it sells mainly Malaysian delicacies, including durian, known as the “King of Fruits” in South East Asia.
The store began operations last January and was originally situated in another Saudi neighbourhood known as Al Aziziyah. It relocated to a wider outlet last month so that it could sell a wider range of products.
In an interview with FoodNavigator-Asia, founder Engku Isa Al-Husam said that the new store has a floor area of more than 2000 sq feet, which is almost five times bigger than their previous store of 430 sq feet, allowing them to realise their initial intention of selling both frozen food and ready to eat products.
Frozen keropok lekor (fish fritters) from the state of Terengganu, frozen nasi lemak (coconut rice with sambal anchovies) and kueh (dessert made from glutinous rice) are some of the new products added.
Besides moving to a larger store, Kedai Asia currently has one pilot branch and eight other branches in Jeddah with their partner Hyper Manuel. The other eight branches are known as Kedai Asia Spot.
It is looking to expand into other Middle East areas, such as Mecca, Riyadh and Dammam.
For instance, it will collaborate with Tamimi Hypermarket by having a special corner for Kedai Asia, starting with their branch in King Abdullah University Science and Technology (KAUST). They also plan to expand into other cities such as Jubail, Riyadh and Rabigh with the hypermarket chain.
Engku Husam is also planning to open an outlet nearby the Holy Mosque in Madinah dedicated for the pilgrims. As for expansion into Mecca, he hopes to finalise and operate the store before the coming Hajj season.
Bestseller goes to…Durian!
Durian is not only popular with Malaysian expatriates, but is also gaining acceptance from the Arabs, and has become the store’s signature product.
The durian products sold in the store include processed durian food and frozen durian puffs.
Engku Husam did not share further details about the sales figures but added, “you will be surprised, even the Arabs love durian today”.
He added, in the initial stage of business, most of the customers were Malaysian expatriates living in Saudi Arabia. The customer base has since diversified, including local Saudis, Asians living in Jeddah and others who love Malaysian food.
“Our products are not totally strange to Arabs because we also have brands familiar with the locals, but with a twist of Asian tastes such as Kit Kat chocolate, but with the green tea flavour, the stevia Coca-Cola which is not available in those region, Nescafe with coconut flavour. Something that can really excite the locals and create curiosity.”
He said that some of the brands high in demand include Maggi Kari, 100 Plus, Oldtown White Coffee, Samyang, Yeo's and that sales figures were “overwhelming, beyond what we were targeting”.
It took the team a year of preparation, including product approval from local authorities before they could operate a store in Saudi Arabia, Engku Husam said.
“It is a never ending work. To have something that is today with more than 700 SKUs, it is something that we could be proud of, something to celebrate and paid off because the work wasn't easy,” he said.
When asked what foreign firms should take note of when starting a business in Saudi Arabia, Engku Husam shared that besides local regulations and law, it is equally important to understanding business and local culture.
Engku Husam is also the vice-president of Husam Waksa Group of Companies, the parent company of Kedai Asia. Before setting up Kedai Asia's brick-and-mortar store, Engku Husam was involved in the agriculture and livestock trading industry in 2005. He later exported Malaysian food products to countries in the Gulf region and Saudi Arabia in 2011.
As for future prospects, Engku Husam said that Kedai Asia is working towards in becoming a regional brand, and hopes that consumers will “think about Kedai Asia once they think about Asian food.”