Flavours of change


By JADE CHANJAROD LIM

Grand Imperial Group pastry chef Chan Weng Kong putting the finishing touches to the mooncakes. — Photos: LOW LAY PHON and courtesy photos

HOTELS and restaurants that heavily relied on dine-in and walk-in customers prior to the Covid-19 pandemic have had to restrategise to sell their mooncakes.

Since movement restrictions have curtailed the usual way of selling, and with mall events also curbed, food and beverage (F&B) businesses have had to adapt in order to market these festive creations.

StarMetro speaks to several established ventures to find out how they have pivoted, ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival on Sept 21.

Adopting dining concierge service The Oriental Group believes that regular communication with customers is key to sustaining its business.

“We reach out to customers through our loyalty programme, the Cuisine Club, via electronic messaging services,” said The Oriental Group operations general manager (external affairs) Lyn Siew.

“To keep our customers engaged, we churn out new menus and promotional items fortnightly, almost like clockwork.

“We also offer something similar to a dining concierge service, whereby customers can contact our outlet managers to tailor orders to their requirements.

“We aim to provide customers peace of mind when it comes to food preparation and delivery, which adhere to the highest hygiene and safety standards,” she added.

The group also works closely with its mall landlords to leverage on their respective databases in marketing its takeaway promotions.

“Whenever movement restrictions were enforced, we pivoted 50% of our takeaway sales to online platforms through our own and other third-party e-commerce platforms,” said Siew.

“The remaining 50% is restaurant- based through our in-house teams, as we still prioritise serving our customers directly.

“This human touch, despite the pandemic, remains a core principle as we still value direct relationships with our customers,” she said.

Despite dine-in restrictions last year, Siew said the group recorded a boost in mooncake sales, as they were generally regarded as takeaway or gifting items.

She is optimistic about seeing a similar boost this year.

“The Mid-Autumn Festival is observed by the Chinese community annually.

“This is the main reason we expanded our mooncake range this year to have new and relevant products so customers have more choices,” she explained.

The group added four new flavours this year – including the Custard Durian Snow Skin and Ying Yang Red Bean Snow Skin – to complement its existing range of four popular flavours that includes Yam Paste Teochew Style and Shanghai Style.

On the packaging, Siew said the quality of boxes were maintained but the design and colours were “elevated to a modern abstract direction”.

“We did not impose any premium pricing this year, taking into consideration the general consumer spending during current economic circumstances.

“Consistent flavour and quality remain our priority.

“Our mooncakes are freshly prepared in our kitchens with no preservatives,” she stressed.

Keeping to only bestsellers and limiting production amountGrand Imperial Group business development manager Maggie Chow said the restaurant decided to only offer its top-selling mooncakes which customers look forward to every year.

“Mid-Autumn is an important festival among the Chinese, who buy mooncakes as gifts.

“Some even enjoy mooncakes in the month leading up to the festival day.

“But since we were not allowed to have booths at malls during earlier lockdowns, this affected our sales.

“So we decided to limit our mooncake selections, leaving out snow skin versions as they have a shorter shelf life,” she explained.

The group produced four traditional baked mooncake flavours this year – Single Yolk White Lotus Paste, Single Yolk Pandan Lotus Paste, Double Yolk Lotus Paste and Red Bean Paste with Citrus.

By limiting the flavours, Chow said the group was able to ensure that only the best of its mooncakes were produced.

“We made about 500 mooncakes a day and only made more when those ran out.

“So customers were always assured of the freshest products, both low in sugar and using premium quality ingredients,” she said.

“If there were a lot of orders, our chefs would adjust production accordingly.

“We also retained last year’s classy wooden mooncake box design as it was popular with customers,” she added.

Additionally, the group took a fresh approach in reaching out to customers through regular livestreaming sessions, said Chow.

“During the livestream, we also update customers on our new products, meals and dim sum packages.”

Thanks to support from its customers and the group’s strategic planning, she said its mooncakes for this year were already sold out.

Investing in online presence and product made for takeaway Vanilla Crepe founder and chief executive officer Nelson Liew said the company had always dedicated significant budget and effort into solidifying its presence online, hence it was not badly affected by dine-in restrictions.

“The business has never relied heavily on dine-in or events as our products are mostly take-home treats for the family.

“The ‘moon crepe’ (what the company calls its mooncakes) business is also one which is gifted to family and friends and can be delivered, so that is a big help,” he highlighted.

He said their “moon crepe” business was also one driven by Internet eyeballs and word of mouth.

“We made some minor adjustments in our marketing approach this year by investing more into making sure our products were visible online and beautifully presented.

“This included engaging high-end photography and videography services plus investing in online promotions.

“The opportunity lost from not having booths at malls was translated into more shoutouts online to garner a similar response from the public,” he added.

Vanilla Crepe’s “moon crepe” flavours this year include bestsellers Rainbow and Mango Peach as well as new flavours KitKat and Jobbie Nut Butter, which have been created in collaboration with Nestle and Jobbie.

In terms of packaging, there are two types.

“The luxury box caters to a slightly higher-income group who is willing to spend for special occasions,” said Liew.

“The lite box is a more economical option for those on a budget.”

He expects the Mooncake Festival to provide a boost to Vanille Crepe, which has 30 stores in Malaysia.

This year, the company’s moon crepes are also available in Sabah and Sarawak as well as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Creating meaningful packaging and better delivery optionsSt Regis Kuala Lumpur general manager Renato De Oliveira said the Covid-19 situation challenged his team to deliver the same St Regis experience to guests in their homes.

“We did this by creating exceptional takeaway and delivery options, such as using beautiful packaging for our classic afternoon tea set to recreate the elegant three-tier stand.

“We also created cooking kits accompanied by QR codes with instructions and personalised videos from our chefs.

“There were classic cocktail kits with masterclass sessions as well, so guests could recreate their favourite meals and drinks at home,” he elaborated.

De Oliveira shared that online platforms played an important role in ensuring that all of the hotel’s products and experiences were well-communicated and promoted.

“We use those platforms to promote our mooncakes and share the story behind the mooncake trunks (packaging),” he said, crediting his marketing team for the e-content that reflects the efforts and passion behind the hotel’s products.

“Our faux-leather mooncake trunks take inspiration from the Astor family’s love for travel, and we are thrilled to unveil a new version every year.

“This year, we paid homage to our founder John Jacob Astor IV’s exquisite penmanship during his many voyages and his travelling stationery trunk.”

On the mooncake flavours, De Oliveira said St Regis Kuala Lumpur took pride in maintaining its traditional flavour – white lotus seed paste – in two sizes.

The Mooncake Festival has always brought in very strong demand, and De Oliveira believes this year will be no different.

“As current restrictions don’t allow a large-scale celebration, people are choosing to show their love and care by gifting their loved ones with mooncakes,” he said.

Focus on domestic market and drive-through convenienceHilton regional general manager (Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam) Jamie A. Mead said the hotel had revised its customer marketing strategy by putting greater focus on the domestic audience and spending more on online media.

“Our distribution model has been evolving towards the online space over the past four years.

“However, within the Covid-19 period, this has rapidly skewed the percentages towards e-commerce or online dependency, both on owned and third-party channels,” he said.

Hilton Kuala Lumpur also had to adopt new processes to promote and sell its mooncakes.

“In the past, we would have relied on sales through our own mooncake boutique in the lobby area.

“But we have had to evolve our approach by catering to the local market this year.

“This was done by embracing delivery services and opening our first drive-through mooncake outlet in the lobby drop-off area of Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s main entrance,” said Mead.

On packaging, the hotel continues with its strategy of offering a new premium mooncake box of high quality and finish.

This year’s highlight is the Jade Moon gift box, featuring a ceramic tea set and Chynna Restaurant’s signature Eight Treasures Tea with a choice of traditional baked or snow skin mooncakes.

“We have retained our bestselling mooncakes from previous years, such as the Heavenly Gold Durian Snow Skin Mooncake,” said Mead.

“The signature mooncake this year is the Royal Jade Snow Skin Mooncake, containing a white lotus paste and salted mung bean filling, contrasted with crunchy cashew nut nibs.”

He said the Mooncake Festival had always provided a boost in business.

“With consumers being more mindful of their spending this year, there appears to be greater demand for products like the mooncake box, which is convenience for both collection and delivery,” he added.

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