Mala is a combination of spicy and numbing flavours derived from Szechuan peppercorn, chilli pepper, spices and oil.
Nissin launched the product Malaysia this August, and Singapore in October.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-Asia, Piyush Kadao, marketing manager at Nissin Foods Singapore, said: “When we studied the market trend for Singapore and Malaysia markets, we found that spicy foods were trending in these markets.
“You can see this with the growing popularity of hotpot chain HaiDiLao in Singapore, which last year also starting operating in Malaysia.”
The food service was instrumental in this consumer trend, with mala-flavoured salted egg fish skin, popcorn to cassava chips soon in the local markets.
Given this growing trend, Nissin Foods Singapore also introduced a mala product last August, under its Myojo brand. However, it was a dry-type version (mala xiang guo).
Kadao said it was well received by consumers, so the firm decided to make a soup-type.
The R&D for the mala product was conducted in Singapore, but the product is manufactured in Indonesia.
Product development was challenging for a complex and overwhelming flavour like mala, according to Kadao.
"In mala, there are a lot of characteristics from the type of noodles that people like, the garnish, the right flavour, the level of numbness and spiciness.
“It was a test in balancing the spiciness and numbness sensation.”
The soup-type product also created formulation challenges, Kadao added.
“In hotpots, people typically cook their meats and vegetables in the soup, few people actually drink the mala soup.
“Hence, we had to create a product where the soup was also enjoyable for consumers.”
Watch Kadao share about the product development challenges faced by the R&D team.
In Singapore, the product is currently available in major supermarket chains, and e-commerce platforms (Shopee, FoodPanda). It will be sold in convenience stores in November.
It retails for S$1.40 (US$1) in Singapore, and RM3.90 (US$0.90) in Malaysia.
In Malaysia, the mala flavour cup noodle is a permanent product, while in Singapore, it is available for a limited time.
In Malaysia, the mala soup-type cup noodle product was launched alongside three other products (tom yum, chicken mushroom and seafood).
The latter three flavours were relaunched as halal-certified products in the country, after manufacturing was switched from Thailand to Indonesia.
Local taste buds
Last year in Japan, Nissin Foods also launched its mala-flavoured soup-type cup noodles, although it was a different variation to the ones sold in Malaysia and Singapore. It was manufactured in Japan and was a limited-edition product.
Kadao said, “The tolerance for spiciness and numbness in the Japan versus the Malaysia and Singapore markets are different, so we changed the intensity of the flavours to reflect the local taste buds.”
Kadao explained that Nissin Foods have a “go-local” strategy within its subsidiaries.
“We understand that taste buds of people change every few hundred kilometers and the way they look at food is different.
“So whenever we plan to launch any new product, we study whether this kind of flavour is acceptable, and if there is a potential, we can launch it as it is, if not we need to tweak the flavour, garnish and ingredients.”