Kicking on: Taiwan’s Kung-Fu Mama eyes UK as next big market after roaring local success with traditional sun-dried noodles
Kung-Fu Mama is well-known as Shuangrenhsu in Taiwan, and has achieved phenomenal levels of success both in retail and food service locally as well as in Hong Kong – At the height of its popularity before the advent of online platforms, there was a six-month waiting list for consumers to receive their orders, and later on the brand also ventured into the restaurants business.
After these local achievements, company Founder Evelyn Hsu is now looking west to the United Kingdom as the firm’s next major target.
“Shuangrenhsu doesn’t really roll off the tongue that well in western countries like the UK, which is why we decided to come up with a new name for marketing here – so far it seems to be working well,” Hsu told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We decided on the UK as the best next market for us after seeing our products receive much attention in Taiwan and Hong Kong because after attending many trade shows and meeting many people, we discovered that our products actually have many attributes that appeal to the market here.
“For instance, we aim to make foods with minimal or no chemical additives, which then means the taste is not as strong as compared to regular Chinese or Taiwanese products – but then makes them popular in European countries who don’t like the use of MSG or additives as health and quality is very important.
“So after doing a lot of market research and supermarket surveys, we figured that our products had the potential to do even better here than in Asia – and when we made our initial entry into the UK, we were lucky enough to be ranged by Sainsbury’s as our first retailer, which proves this point.”
Despite being in one of the country’s largest retail outlets, Hsu told us that she has plans to develop the market much more and tackle more of the other major supermarkets, particularly Tesco, Whole Foods, Harrods and Selfridge.
“Consumers who go to supermarkets like Whole Foods or Harrods do so with the intention of eating healthier and tend to care more about what they eat, which is very much in line with what we are offering,” she said.
“So the idea is very much to focus on quality, quality, quality here, and provide localised recipes and ways to combine our noodles with local dietary habits – for instance, we’ve even worked on things like noodle salads which are a big thing here.
“Taiwanese sun-dried noodles are really a very new concept here in the UK, where most people only know the concept of Japanese or Korean instant noodles and associate us with those, and thus with being unhealthy, which is quite a challenge.
“So the strategy over the next year for us will be to develop our noodles as more of a pasta concept by bringing in various different noodle shapes from thick to thin to wavy to flat and more, so these can be seen as products separate from instant noodles – more like Italian pasta, as a separate category.”
At present, Kung-Fu Mama has three noodle SKUs in the UK – Spicy Sundried Noodes, Sesame and Peanut Noodles, and Mapo Biang Biang Noodles – all of which have a RRP of GBP5 (US$6.87) for a pack of three servings complete with sauces, dried seasonings and dried vegetables.
Taiwan vs UK
By comparison, the three SKUs available in the UK is still tiny compared to its over 30 SKUs back in Taiwan, but according to Hsu this is due to the differences between both markets and the plan is definitely to expand these moving forward.
“In Taiwan and Hong Kong, the competition for noodles is enormous so it is essential to keep developing new flavours and products and keep up such marketing,” said Hsu.
“In the UK it may work to deepend focus on select products, but not in those markets – it is why we have developed a range of non-noodle products like sauces, hotpot bases, and even our most-popular item Spicy Duck Pudding (duck blood, a food popular in some Asian countries) just to ensure consumers remember our brand.
“Strong and spicy flavours – as strong and spicy as possible - are also very big in Taiwan, as are ideas which are as crazy and instagrammable as possible, but in the UK it is important to pay attention to quality which is the angle we are working on there, so the strategies really have to be very different. Noodles are also less of a staple in the UK as compared to Asia.”
When asked what other markets she has in mind for expansion, Hsu added that the plan for 2021 and 2022 is to focus on the UK, then only venture to other European markets – ‘and as for other Asian markets, we’ll just go with the flow’.
“Our production base will remain in Taiwan for now though – sun-dried noodles are a very traditional product, part of Taiwanese culture, and it’s really not very suitable for manufacturing in the UK,” she said.
“The products we bring to the UK will be in keeping with current big food trends though, such as natural, vegan and clean label – keeping the products vegan will also help greatly with importing and exporting challenges, as we all know that meat trade is more complicated.”