Growing up, Collin She’s mother would often fry bean curd skin and fishballs as snacks for the family.
However, having left the nest for university, Collin would often miss his mother’s cooking and the childhood snack that reminded him so much of home.
Alongside the fond childhood memories, Collin, who often traveled around Japan, discovered that Singapore did not have the same variety of snacks that are readily available to consumers.
Without any prior business experience — he was previously a steward for Singapore Airlines, before moving on to be an oil and gas trader — he set out to create a snack that is inexpensive, nostalgic and most importantly, “uniquely Singapore”.
Inspired by his own childhood snack, he wanted to turn beancurd skin to an actual snack.
Being an extremely versatile ingredient, beancurd skin is used in many of Asian dishes like yong tau foo, dim sum and inari. He wants to take this traditional ingredient and give it a modern twist so that people of all ages can enjoy it.
“We want to bring centrestage this widely-loved ingredient that has always been on the sidelines,” Collin expressed.
The first bean curd skin snack in the world
Launched in January 2020, Fupi is touted to be the first of its kind in the world.
According to Collin, their snacks are much healthier, lighter and not oily compared to other fried snacks such as potato chips and fish skins.
Fupi was first launched at a Chinese New Year fair at Vivo City mall, where the brand managed to sell 10,000 packets.
Additionally, Fupi launched a festive gift box at launch, which also turned out to be a hit, seeing that it sold 150 boxes within the first week.
The demand for their snacks was so overwhelming that Collin had to resort to borrowing a friend’s car and drive up to Malacca to retrieve more stock.
However, a key business challenge that they face is the lack of efficiency in processing orders from consumers as many of the factory’s processes are still manual. This limits the number of orders the brand is able to produce in a day, hence Fupi plans to invest in the necessary machines to ramp up production.
When mapping out their startup idea, Collin first took a look at both the supply and demand factors.
“We needed distributors and exporters who understood our brand and product to bring Fupi beyond the shores of Singapore,” said Collin.
In terms of supply, the brand had to ensure efficiencies so as to deliver the best quality snack to consumers. This included sourcing for the factory, ingredients, packaging and warehouse, as well as finding a workforce with appropriate skillsets, and ensuring supply chains are reliable and robust.
In terms of demand, the top priority was marketing and raising brand awareness through social media platforms, collaborations, organizations and pop-up stores.
“We worked tirelessly for the first couple of months to perfect the taste and texture of Fupi, set up our production line and spoke to distributors to onboard Fupi,” said Collin.
He added that the early days weren’t easy and he was grateful to have his parents lend a helping hand to kickstart the business. They helped oversee the operations and production in Malacca, Malaysia, while Collin single-handedly managed sales and marketing in Singapore.
Having invested S$100,000 to start up Fupi, Collin shared that they took only a year to break even.
They strive to create new flavors every year
Fupi’s flavors are inspired by Singaporean staples, and Fupi endeavors to create new flavors every year to attract more people to enjoy their snack.
Some of Fupi’s signature flavors include Sichuan Mala, Hot Pot Tomato and Nyonya Laksa (developed in collaboration with Singapore Food Festival), and most recently, it launched two other new flavours: Thai Green Curry and Seaweed Wasabi.
When the brand first launched, consumers gravitated towards Sichuan Mala but over the last year, Hot Pot Tomato has become the brand’s best-selling product.
According to Collin, the Research & Development (R&D) process of creating a new flavor typically takes between eight and 10 months from conception to production.
The process includes creating and adjusting the recipe as well as conducting a “taste test” with at least 50 people to gather their feedback. Once the focus group is satisfied with the flavour, only then will it be taken for production.
I have added that not all flavors make the cut. For instance, they have experimented with creating a “sweet” version of Fupi, particularly chocolate flavour, but it did not taste as good as they had hoped.
Apart from launching new flavors and products (beancurd sticks), Fupi has been busy tweaking its existing flavors to achieve the utmost perfection.
“We have made Fupi less oily and crispier as compared to when we first launched Fupi in January 2020,” Collin explained.
Covid-19 is a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges
Covid-19 presents its own set of opportunities and challenges for Fupi.
With Covid-19 restrictions, many people were encouraged to stay at home. This led to a significant increase in online shopping and snacking, which ultimately caused their online sales and revenue to also increase.
At the height of Covid-19 in 2020, the brand managed to sell an average of 10,000 packets a month. Even during the circuit breaker, its sales volume soared to 16,000 packets a month.
On the flipside, the Covid-19 restrictions affected its production manpower, which gave rise to supply chain issues. It also led to a host of other issues such as an increase in raw material costs, longer delivery times, and lower rates of production.
Despite these challenges, within just five months of launching Fupi, the brand has boldly expanded its outreach to the United States.
“Since we started exporting to the United States, Canada and New Zealand, our sales volume has doubled,” shared Collin.
He added that they are also in the midst of expanding their exports to include other countries such as Dubai and Australia, and have no plans to set up a physical store for now.
Ultimately, his goal is to shape Fupi into a global household brand name and snack. To achieve this, Fupi will continue to innovate and evolve with consumers’ needs, offering the best snacking experiences for consumers.
Staying true to his mantra of harnessing creativity to challenge the status quo, he sets out to be innovative without being “gimmicky” or “kitschy”.
“I started Fupi to bring families and friends together with a nostalgic snack and (that remains) our main goal today,” summed up Collin.
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Featured Image Credit: Fupi