We first spoke to The Kettle Gourmet in 2018 when the firm was just about to launch its locally-inspired popcorn range, including the bak kwa (sweetened barbecue pork) flavour which eventually went viral in Singapore, and since then the firm has continued to grow its range of local flavours as well as the team.
“[Where we just had a team of about five back then], now we’ve expanded and moved our manufacturing plant to Malaysia where we have about 10 people, and in Singapore there are about 15 people, so we’ve grown quite a bit,” The Kettle Gourmet Founder and CEO Zac Chua told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“The plant produces about 1,000 to 1,200 bags of popcorn daily – we still oven-bake and not microwave – and we were really lucky to have brought in some two tons of inventory right before the second Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia kicked in.”
Chua added that The Kettle Gourmet has found a digital-first strategy to work the best for them, particularly during COVID-19 lockdowns in its operation markets, which is a very different retail strategy to work for them compared to its competitors such as Garretts and Eureka.
“These other popcorn firms establish their own physical stores and focus 100% on the B2C element – we’ve found that a digital-first retail strategy and a combination of B2B and B2C approaches has turned out to be good for us, so we’re pretty different,” he said.
“This was especially so during COVID-19 where we managed to carry on and continue sales, and even saw a large increase in sales during this time, due to this digital-first strategy.
“We’re on just about all the available e-commerce platforms you can think of – Shopee, Qoo10, RedMart, GradFood, FoodPanda and so on – and recently we’ve also become the first vendor in Singapore to be listed on the newly minted local AirAsia Food platform.”
AirAsia Food is AirAsia’s online food retail and delivery platform, which was only just launched into Singapore in February 2021.The Kettle Gourmet is currently the only vendor on the Singapore site, as of time of writing.
“I believe that the publicity associated with this will positively benefit our marketing too, such as with things like vouchers and promotions being offered to consumers via the platform and app,” said Chua.
“That’s not to say that we’re not available in any physical stores though – we’re in all 28 outlets of FairPrice Finest in Singapore, and also in the new AI unmanned convenience store Pick & Go located in the Singapore University of Technology and Design, which is also the first locally.
“We adjusted our packaging and pack sizes significantly from back in 2018 so as to stand out more on supermarket shelves too – there are now cartoon characters to go with each bag, and the pack sizes have been increased from the original 30g to 65g, which a lot of our consumers were already requesting for.
Larger bulk packs of 330g are also available, with many requests for these coming from both family purchasers and B2B clients.
Six flavours of popcorn are currently available: the regular Chocolate and Salted Caramel flavours, and Asian Favourites such as Nasi Lemak (coconut rice), Chilli Crab, Kaya (coconut jam) Butter Toast and Chicken Floss. All are available at retail prices of S$5 (US$3.79) for a 65g pack, S$30 (US$22.75) for a 6-pack of 65g packs, or S$15 (US$11.37) for a 330g family pack.
Local flavour gamble
Chua added that the firm’s ethos is to bring back tradition and bring these unique Asian flavours to people from all walks of life globally and in fun formats, especially where there might be limited access to these flavours.
“Portability and tradition, those are the two key things we’re looking at with our products,” he said.
“Nasi Lemak is our most popular flavour across all the markets we’re in, and along those lines I’m also very much looking at what I call the ‘local flavour gamble’ – simply put, if I can make nasi lemak popcorn, I can also make nasi lemak chips or corn sticks, and that’s what we’re doing R&D on now.
“We’re definitely also looking at developing more Asian flavours out of local favourites – some to look forward to soon are Fish Head Curry and Pulut Hitam (a black glutinous rice dessert).”
The bak kwa flavour was unfortunately forced to be shelved in 2019, after the firm received its halal certification, a move Chua described as ‘necessary so as to reach wider markets’ like Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as to set up the manufacturing plant in Malaysia.
The Kettle Gourmet is currently also selling to Malaysia and Indonesia, mostly via distributors, and is also in talks with the Philippines and has received enquiries from China and Hong Kong.
“China did ask us for quotations but due to COVID-19, some new import regulations popped up relating to food and we’re still trying to work through that, though I’m pretty positive about it,” said Chua.
“We really want to expand further in the South East Asian region for sure though, and are looking for distributors here, [whether] it’s Thailand, Vietnam, or any other ASEAN country, we’re definitely interested.
In terms of adding any more physical store presence in Singapore, he said this would depend very much on cost.
“To range in supermarkets in Singapore is really not cheap, so it really depends very much on the costings – plus we also really do not want to neglect our consumer touchpoints [via the channels we’re established in],” said Chua.
“I will say though that I really do not see us renting our own store and selling popcorn that way any time soon, it’s not really our model.”