Given the strong presence of Japanese and Korean snacks in Hong Kong, it’s interesting how an aging brand like Calbee continues to dominate the market.
Calbee accounts for 40 percent of Hong Kong’s snacks industry, with yearly sales growth of 8-10 percent.
Wu Tsz-chiu, managing director of Calbee Four Seas Ltd., told Job Market that before the group opened a factory in Hong Kong, it had to import snacks from Canada and Japan.
It would take up to a month before the company would receive the shipment.
“The flavor and texture would be gone after the long journey,” Wu said.
When Calbee decided to build a Hong Kong factory in 1994, most local manufacturing plants were being relocated to the mainland to take advantage of lower production costs.
But the partners knew they were right to put down stakes in Hong Kong. Since then, Calbee has been producing snacks in an integrated factory in the heart of the market.
That means the manufacturing process — from potato peeling, slicing, seasoning and packaging — can be finished in a day and freshness is guaranteed.
The factory makes 2,500 tons to 3,000 tons of snack food each year.
Calbee works hard to keep the brand young and fresh.
It keeps a constant stream of new flavors and actively engages the market, especially younger consumers, through social media and traditional channels.
“We bring in new flavors to surprise our customers such as products tailored to certain seasons and trends,” Wu said.
For example, Calbee launched Korean seaweed-flavoured potato chips to ride the K-pop wave.
The company rolls out 20 to 30 new flavors every year.
“We have focus groups each time, helping us find the perfect flavors,” he said.
But the search does not end with the right match. The company makes sure the market knows about it.
It heavily promotes the brand on social media such as Facebook and regularly organizes streetside marketing events targeting young people.
Last year was the 20th anniversary of Calbee’s Hong Kong factory.
To mark the milestone, it worked with Chinese e-commerce giant Taobao.com to package Calbee parcels to look like mega-size hot and spicy-flavored potato chips.
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