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7 Singapore start-ups create local snacks with Asian flavours

Nuts, potato chips and health food given a local spin by home-grown start-ups are flying off the shelves.

The passion for all things Singaporean has sparked a new trend in the snacks industry, with items such as a coconut curry lime-infused nut mix and sesame and onion- flavoured shortbread cookies.

At least five home-grown snack companies have popped up over the past 11/2 years, concocting creative local flavours for nuts, granola, potato chips and cookies.

Newcomers on the scene include the month-old Provisions, which makes gula jawa (coconut sugar) brittle, curry shortbread cookies and curry-coated cashew nuts.

Nutchies, a year-old cashew nut company, offers flavours such as chilli.

The slew of start-ups is likely to be encouraged by the success of early birds such as Irvins Salted Egg, which is known for its salted egg-coated potato chips and fried fish skin. Over the past two years, Irvins has expanded to six outlets. Last month, it opened its first overseas outlet in Manila.

Irvins Salted Egg in Manila

Irvins Salted Egg in Manila. PHOTO Irvins Salted Egg

(RELATED: Enough with the Overdone Salted Egg Yolk Trend, Already.)

Another early bird is The Golden Duck Co, which started in 2015 and sells salted egg yolk snacks at six outlets, including Chevron House and Parkway Parade.

Despite having to compete with major brands in supermarkets, these start-ups bank on the strong snacking culture here and target tourists looking for unique food souvenirs.

Most of these companies started as pop-up stores, which are frequented by young adults who are more receptive to trying snacks with new flavours, even if they are pricier. Many of these snacks, produced in small batches, are two to three times more expensive than supermarket brands.

One company, Yolky Chips, has seen demand for its salted egg yolk and truffle-flavoured potato chips double over the past six months since it started in May last year. A few hundred packets are sold here each month. Co-owner Mas Raihan Sulaiman, 43, says he and his business partner, Mr Branden Chung, 42, started their company after seeing how Irvins Salted Egg created waves in the snacks scene.

“Everyone loves to snack,” he says. “Once you hit the right product formula, it is easy to grow the business.”

He adds that locally made snacks have the potential to expand overseas because of Singapore’s “high level of food safety regulations”. Yolky Chips is stocked in lifestyle shop Naiise’s Kuala Lumpur outlet.

Nutchies offers cashew nuts in nine flavours, including wasabi. Co-founder Kenneth Ho, 30, says: “Cashew nuts used to come in limited flavours. With these new flavours, they can be re-invented as a fun party snack.”

PHOTO The Golden Duck Co

Monthly sales have doubled to 7,000 to 10,000 packs since it started in September last year.

Beehivee Crispies, meanwhile, is modernising traditional flavours with its kuih rose, or honeycomb cookies, which are studded with sesame seeds and come in chic tin boxes and re-sealable paper packs. It sells about 50 packs a month.

Co-owner Foo Cher Fang, 36, who uses his mother’s kuih rose recipe, says: “In Japan, the Tokyo Banana cake is a distinctive food souvenir. By revamping kuih rose, I can fill the gap of having a Singapore heritage snack for tourists to take home.”

  • Provisions
    A request from a friend to make unique wedding favours three years ago sparked the idea of starting a snack shop in the minds of Nicholas Tan and Paul Ng, both 33.

    After tinkering around in the kitchen for a few months, the secondary school buddies and avid home cooks concocted two snacks for the wedding: gula jawa (coconut sugar) brittle studded with almonds and desiccated coconut, and curry-coated cashew nuts.

    The locally inspired nibbles proved to be a hit and orders started pouring in from friends and family.

    Last October, they started their snack outfit, Kam Cheng Snacks, selling those two products from a section of Dough & Grains bakery in Chinatown Point.

    The Gula Jawa Almond Brittle ($10) is made with unrefined Indonesian coconut sugar and French butter, and the Curry Cashews ($8) are coated in a curry leaf and curry blend. Spurred on by growing demand for their snacks, they moved to a 300 sq ft shop in MacPherson Road last month and renamed their business Provisions, to reflect plans to make a broader range of products. It now also sells savoury shortbread cookies ($5) in flavours such as curry, and onion and sesame.

    Another reason for entering the snack business was Tan's pet peeve with Merlion-shaped chocolates commonly found in souvenir shops here.

    The former civil servant says: "These chocolates are generic and poorly represent the bountiful flavours that we have in Asia. So I wanted to create food souvenirs that are more representative."

    Business has been picking up and the shop sells about 100 boxes of gula jawa almond brittle and curry cashews a month.

    To keep their business sustainable, they also run a bakery selling Asian-inspired confections, such as osmanthus and bandung roll cakes(from $1.50 a slice), pandan gula jawa cake ($35) and oolong and walnut loaf ($1.90). They also intend to target tourists by selling their products in souvenir shops in Changi Airport, hotels and other retail shops.

    Ng, who used to work in his family's commercial kitchen business, says: "Tourists have higher spending power and tend to buy these snacks as gifts."

    WHERE 492 MacPherson Road

    OPENING HOURS 8am to 8pm, Mondays to Saturdays, closed on Sundays

    Tel: 6909-0824

    PHOTO Lau Fook Kwang / The Straits Times

(RELATED: New online retailer Handpicked rolls out Singapore-made artisanal noodles.)

Provisions co-owner Nicholas Tan, 33, also sees tourists as a crucial part of his business plans. He says: “We hope tourists can find out more about Singapore through these snacks that are more representative of the diverse flavours here.”

Even health snacks now come in local flavours. Amazin’ Graze, which has a four-month-old kiosk in Raffles City Shopping Centre, sells about 20 types of granola, nut mixes, nut butters, chia seeds and flax seeds. It has another retail shop in Kuala Lumpur and an online presence in Hong Kong and Dubai.

About half its products come in Asian flavours. For example, Coconut Kaya Granola, which has baked rolled oats and nuts coated in kaya made with organic molasses, was launched last month. Popular nut blends come in flavours such as coconut curry lime and tom yam kaffir lime.

Mr Hayden Leow, 28, Amazin’ Graze’s director, says sales have grown by 10 to 15 per cent month on month, with about 5,000 packs of granola and nuts sold in Singapore monthly.

Its products will be stocked in major supermarkets here in November.

Last month, it received $800,000 in funding from a Singapore-based private investor, which will allow it to move to a bigger central kitchen in Kuala Lumpur and boost production by up to tenfold.

Getting more awareness in the snacks market is a key challenge, says Mr Leow. “Imported health food from Western countries tends to be bland and unexciting. Snacks in familiar flavours resonate better with Singaporeans and help to break down the barrier to trying health food, which has a niche appeal.”

Story first appeared on The Straits Times.

HEADER PHOTO Don Wong for The Sunday Times / The Straits Times