The firm, which claims to be Malaysia’s biggest online peanut butter brand, records 80% of its sales online, and undertakes a great deal of promotion through its website and Facebook page – which is where it also first posted its controversial post relating to hardships it was facing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Jobbie going bankrupt very soon [in] the midst of all the incoming COVID-19 chaos. We’re running out of stock, options & resources [as] due to the lockdown, all of our suppliers have closed down,” stated the original Facebook post.
“In all desperation we have come up with a solution, a last resort, the season finale. We will be running a pre-order only for all our peanut butter for the next 45 days [to help] us keep afloat and negotiate better ways to deliver and fulfilling orders faster.”
Jobbie offered a RM10 (US$2.32) discount for all orders in the promotion, which is still ongoing until the end of June, and the post was a massive success. According to Jobbie CEO Victor Chin, the first week after that saw an enormous spike in orders, some five times their usual sales.
The controversy emerged after that when netizens discovered that in 2018, the firm had pulled a similar ‘bankruptcy’ prank for April Fool’s, offering a buy one free one promotion in line with ‘the end’ of its business.
Things got worse when Jobbie posted a second ‘clarification’ post starting with: “Yup you’re right we’ve ‘cheated you’ on that bankrupt post” despite the rest of the post detailing how Jobbie was indeed in danger of running out of raw material supplies and going bankrupt.
The saga eventually erupted into outright accusations of Jobbie ‘cheating’, ‘playing the sympathy card’ and even being ‘disgusting’ for playing on people’s emotions – but Chin stressed that the firm has indeed been in financial trouble, and the post this year was out of a real call for help and not a marketing ploy in any way.
“We were facing bankruptcy as a real situation, with only one or two months leeway at the time – our suppliers were all running out of stocks and reluctant to take small batch orders like we normally put it, so we made the plea online to get more pre-orders in for 45 days, which gave us a bigger volume with which to negotiate with our suppliers and kickstart the supply chain,” he told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We were not looking at the pre-orders as working capital in any way, but had to put those funds aside in case it didn’t work out after 45 days and the money had to be refunded to customers – and a lot of people are forgetting that the money would be refunded if the orders were not fulfilled, so no cheating involved.
“No one wants to bring on the stigma of being on verge of bankruptcy unless they really have to.”
As for Jobbie’s follow-up ‘cheated’ post, Chin acknowledged that this move had left them very open to being misconstrued, although it was just trying to phrase it in line with the brand’s ‘authentic rebel’ image and tone.
“I understand how our fans and customers might feel they were taken for a ride, and we all sincerely apologise for this. We wanted to be straight and transparent, and although many of our long-time followers understood this as part of how we communicate, we now see how this might be misconstrued by the new audience that was drawn in by the post,” he said.
“We definitely have to work on our communications and PR and grow up as a brand.”
COVID-19 challenges for small firms
Jobbie says it has already fulfilled the first batch of orders from this 45-day offer after getting back on track with their suppliers, and is hopeful that with Malaysia’s operational restrictions getting more relaxed, their supply chain can get back to normal soon.
“We’re not out of the woods yet – this bought us some time to continue our operations, but already some suppliers have told us that they have limited stocks left too and will not have anything to offer us after these run out,” said Chin.
“This means we may need to look at alternative suppliers, but this opens up other uncertainties in terms of quality, delivery and service.”
Apart from peanuts, Jobbie is facing difficulties with suppliers for various other aspects such as its jars, lids, labels, carton boxes and the like – a similar story that many other small businesses are facing in these unprecedented times.
“I’ve had people from bigger firms approach me to comment that there is no peanut shortage in the market and had to explain that the reality is very different for smaller firms like ours. It is very dependent on the business size and volume, especially when suppliers don’t take the smaller orders,” he said.
“In addition, as the economy worsens, we’re looking at things like credit lines changing and payment terms changing – we’ve had some people ask for 80% cash up-front, which is understandable as they are cash-strapped as well, but very difficult on our end.”
Innovating to survive
For Jobbie, surviving the COVID-19 crisis will be very dependent on how it innovates and diversifies.
“We’re first looking to diversify our suppliers to get a more stable supply. Apart from that, we’ve accelerated the timelines for some of our long term plans for example brand extensions and cross-collaborations into complementary products such as granola, ice cream, biscuits and the like,” said Chin.
“Another very important aspect we’re hoping to work on is to find a partner with and established brand and manufacturing expertise, but less presence on the online front, such as perhaps Julie’s or Mamee and so on. We’ve got very strong online presence, and no competing products with these brands, so believe that there can be synergy here that would work for both us and them.”
Malaysia is amongst the world’s top peanut butter markets – According to Chin, Asia takes five of the world’s top 20 spots for peanut butter imports, with Japan at number one and then South Korea, Philippines, China and Malaysia at around the 18th spot.