In almost a year of writing about the local startup ecosystem, it’s common to see business partnerships formed between an entrepreneur’s closest, most trusted people in their lives like spouses, family, and friends.
This group of friends experiencing their quarter-life crisis at the same time was no exception.
“We’ve known each other for a very long time, some even as early as the primary school days. And we’ve always dreamt about starting a business together. So one day, I proposed a business idea to the other founders, which got them excited and they decided to hop on board with me on it,” Vincent, one of the founders of Kantin Lab, shared with Vulcan Post.
Starting a biz from a shared nostalgia
As the 4 founders go way back, they wanted to bring something to the market that was of sentimental value to them as well, like food or drinks.
And since Vincent himself had been in the snack industry for over 6 years, he felt that it made sense to venture into something similar since he already knew its ins and outs and had connections.
Bringing something new and tasty to the market wasn’t their only intention though, as the four of them wanted to have something affordable too, just like what they’d get from school canteens back then.
Convinced by Vincent’s snack idea, the group bootstrapped and invested about RM150K together to kickstart the business in July 2019.
Entering a red ocean
Kantin Lab currently has two products, crinkle cut potato chips in a salted egg yolk nasi lemak and simpler salted egg yolk flavour. Their nasi lemak chips come with real peanuts, pandan leaves, and anchovies to replicate the nasi lemak experience. Both flavours retail for RM14.90 (100g) and can be found in convenience stores and even e-commerce platforms.
Ever since they first exploded on the scene, salted egg yolk snacks have become ubiquitous in Malaysia. But this saturated market doesn’t faze the Kantin Lab team, and they think of this more as healthy competition that they’re up against.
However, they clarified that they also see themselves as more than a salted egg yolk snack brand, and that this flavour is a stepping stone for them to get the ball rolling as a snack brand focused on local flavours.
1,000 to 1,500 bags of chips produced a day
In their current facility, Kantin Lab can produce 100kg to 150kg of chips per day. Since one bag of chips is about 100g, it would mean that they produce about 1,000 to 1,500 bags of chips daily.
Vincent is the only one running the business full-time, and they have partners and a team of production staff to support the business as well.
On average, Kantin Lab sells about 10,000 bags of chips per month, but Vincent shared with Vulcan Post that they’re expecting the numbers to change soon as they’ve secured some collaborations and are launching new projects too.
Their very first collaboration is with Tealive, selling a 50g variation of their nasi lemak flavoured chips in their outlets with the bubble milk tea brand’s logo added to the packaging.
Vincent shared that they went into this with no specific expectations since it was their first collaboration, but noted that they can leverage Tealive’s strengths to increase their reach, brand awareness, and sales. He added that discussions are ongoing with more brands, but extra information is still under wraps.
Though he declined to share current monthly revenue numbers, he said that they’re on track to achieving their first million by the end of the year, and that they are already profitable by a small margin.
Overspending on R&D
“I believe cash flow management will always be the biggest challenge in any business, especially for a new startup like us. Back in the early days, we overspent most of our initial capital on trial and error, something that wasn’t within our initial projection,” Vincent shared.
This put them in a situation where they didn’t have sufficient funds to purchase necessary machinery for production, and what made it harder was that they also weren’t eligible to apply for SME-related loans at the time.
“Fortunately, we managed to solve the crisis by convincing the supplier to accept our payment through an instalment basis, something that we thought wasn’t possible since it wasn’t common practice back then.”
For now, the team believes that their focus should be on product innovation and expanding their distribution channels first. Should the plan be successful, they believe it’ll keep their customers excited and help them reach a wider base of consumers.
“Besides domestic selling, we are also in talks with several interested parties outside of Malaysia about selling Kantin Lab products overseas,” Vincent said.
A good starting point
In terms of affordability though, they’re certainly not the only ones in the market selling at a cheaper price than the notoriously expensive Irvin’s Salted Egg (a 105g of the chips costs RM45 undiscounted). There are more brands doing the same on Shopee.
However, one could say that the salted egg yolk craze has died down a little, and a lot of brands on a list that our sister brand compiled back in 2017 no longer sell their salted yolk egg chips. The barriers to entry of this business appear low, and if brands are unable to keep up, newer ones will come in and take over.
Kantin Lab’s plan to use it as a starting point makes sense since the market has already proven that it is receptive to the flavour. Now the startup can simply layer on more local flavours on top of that, continue market validation, and attempt to gradually step away from just selling salted egg yolk chips. After nasi lemak, one does wonder what other flavours would emerge. Curry, perhaps?
- You can learn more about Kantin Lab here.
- You can read about more Malaysian F&B brands we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Vincent Low, one of the founders of Kantin Lab