Snacking might seem like an inconsequential part of daily life, but for the guys behind local brand The Golden Duck (TGD), it’s everything. While they started out with one breakout product, salted egg crisps, the brand soon grew to encompass all manner of snacks: from mala stirfry-inspired snack packs to chilli crab seaweed tempura chips. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill, $2-a-bag snacks though – TGD’s value proposition is an unyielding focus on quality. The millennial-run snack company is one that listens to its customers, markets its products very well, and even boasts its own head chef. The Peak speaks to TGD’s two founders, Jonathan Shen and Chris Hwang, about their latest flavour: Tom Yum Goong Gourmet Mix, which creation involved public voting and a collaboration with Bangkok restaurant Blue Elephant Royal Thai Cuisine; and running a successful snack business.

Loved the way you guys crowdsourced not only the flavour, but the main ingredients for TGD’s latest product – how did the idea come about?

The idea was first suggested by our intern who was overwhelmed with the number of snack suggestions she was receiving by our fans on social media. Our Executive Chef was also caught in a (tasty) dilemma, as she started thinking about the next snack recipe to put together for our next launch. Unfortunately, with Covid-19, our initial plans were also thrown out of the window, which was also when we decided that it was now time to let our fans have a say. This ultimately led to the development of The Great Snack Showdown, where TGD fans from all over the world now have the opportunity to co-create a snack of their choice, with us. 

How did you guys decide on what options to offer for the voting?

We regularly conduct polls, reply direct messages and ask our snackers questions on our social media platforms, so there is always a conversation ongoing where we get to hear firsthand what our snackers really want. We took some of the most requested options, started working on them earlier this year and ended up with 3 flavours and 8 ingredients that were good. We had to decide on one so we decided to let our snackers decide in The Great Snack Showdown campaign.

Golden Duck is produced in Singapore — what are the advantages to this, since moving production overseas might be cheaper?

Quality and control. It is indeed costly to manufacture in Singapore, but moving production overseas or outsourcing it to a third party manufacturer means more potential issues with quality. Therefore, we will only do this when we are certain that we can achieve the same level of quality. Furthermore, manufacturing in Singapore allows us to keep our “made in Singapore” mark and claim – this is something that we are very proud of.

What are your thoughts on the SG Brand Mark initiative? 

As a 5 years young homegrown brand making our gourmet snacks right here in Singapore, for the world, we quite literally wear our country proudly on our sleeves – we even have the Singapore flag adorned on our packs and cartons! We are extremely excited about the SG Brand Mark, and I think it will be a beautiful “shorthand” way to communicate the high standards that we live up to every day. For our snackers worldwide, the SG Brand Mark will become a global seal of trust that upholds the food safety, quality and excellence that they have come to expect from Singapore products. I imagine it will be very interesting to realise how so many of our favourite brands are, in fact, made right here at home!

(Related: Bringing small joy to people is big deal to Golden Duck founders)

Do you think Singaporean products have enough visibility/loyalty overseas for people to be attracted by this label?

Mention Singapore to foreign friends and a few things immediately come to mind – Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport, and our food! We’re known globally for having one of the most unique and diverse food scenes in the world and we’re really excited to work closely with the SG Brand Mark initiative to grow this curiosity and attraction around Singaporean food. The Golden Duck’s snacks have been tasted by people in over 30 countries, and have travelled as far as The US, Europe, and The Middle East. We’re proud to be part of the many successful Singaporean food brands that have gone before, and are to come after, continuing to push our country’s proud love for food.

fi Jonathan Shen Chris Hwang Golden Duck
Jonathan Shen and Chris Hwang of Golden Duck

Very few snack brands can say they’ve worked with a well-known chef for their flavour development, how did this come about. What other collaborations can we expect?

Our mission since the start has always been to translate well-loved dishes into authentic Asian gourmet snacks. The product innovation process is an arduous and meticulous task – from studying a recipe to understanding its origins, everything is done from ground zero. With the Tom Yum Goong Gourmet Mix, we wanted to work with the best to create the ultimate Thai snack that will conquer the hearts of our snackers around the world. 

At the same time, our TGD team member was visiting the Blue Elephant restaurant in Bangkok and fell in love with the food – particularly the tom yum dish. We saw the opportunity to synergise our strengths with Blue Elephant and wanted to work with them to create the ultimate Thai snack that will conquer the hearts of our snackers around the world. The Tom Yum recipe was then developed in-house, before being perfected by Chef Nooror.

Together with Chef Nooror from Blue Elephant Royal Thai Cuisine, TGD’s executive chef, Chef Maui, underwent a meticulous process of breaking down the recipe’s individual ingredients, gaining rich insights into the culinary techniques and traditions to reimagine Thailand’s signature dish as a gourmet snack with real flavours and real ingredients.

(Related: Lattes made by a robotic barista at Crown Coffee)

What other collaborations can we expect?

While Tom Yum was the ultimate winner, we can’t deny the fact that the other two flavours received a lot of support – and many other recipes came through loud and clear on social media and on our DMs. Even though the voting period has since concluded, our vision to continuously create dish-to-snack recipes have not. Keep your eyes peeled for more snackers-led collaborations and innovation coming very soon!

You’ve scaled up considerably since the early days. What advice would you have for F&B businesses that want to scale?  (in terms of the kind of realistic roadmap to have, when to consider automation, having to ensure logistical stability etc)

Get your fundamentals right – a lot of challenges at the start are similar at scale. Just bigger and more convoluted. Customer Experience is everything – know who you’re selling to and aim to be their best friend. Expect curveballs as part of the journey – this year (while extreme), is a good example of this.

(Related: Natural wine: Protect it from the yuppies)