Staying afloat in the pandemic: 3 companies and a salesman pivot successfully

While coping with the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Three Buns has not lost track of its sustainability mission. PHOTO: THREE BUNS

SINGAPORE - While many food and beverage businesses are struggling to stay afloat in the Covid-19 pandemic, some have been quick to change course and have emerged stronger.

Three companies and a salesman share their success pivot stories.

Three Buns By Potato Head

To serve delivery customers in the area faster, burger restaurant Three Buns set up a new kitchen in Orchard Road last month (June).

The kitchen churns out orders made via food delivery platform Deliveroo.

The restaurant in Robertson Quay, part of F&B group Potato Head, introduced island-wide delivery at the start of the circuit breaker and has seen orders on Deliveroo triple last month, compared with January.

It is also on other platforms - Oddle, Foodpanda and GrabFood.

To encourage more delivery or takeaway orders, group executive chef Adam Penney also offers a $19 set lunch, which includes a burger or dawg (hotdog), fries or salad, and lemonade or soft drink.

He says: "We knew we had to be flexible and quick to adapt our business model, to handle more takeaway and delivery orders, in addition to improving the features on our website."

While coping with the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Three Buns, along with its sister burger restaurant Potato Head in Keong Saik Road, have not lost track of their sustainability mission.

Last month, both outlets launched a Sustainable Menu, featuring plant-based dishes and new brands such as Simpliigood - which specialises in spirulina products - and SeedFuel, which offers products made with discarded waste from the fruit-processing industry.

The Jakarta branch of Three Buns and Indonesian restaurant Kaum, which is also part of the Potato Head group, reopened last month to cater to takeaway and delivery orders after closing on April 1.

Chef Penney says: "Similar to our operations in Singapore, we continue to be flexible to the changing environment in Jakarta as the country transitions through the phases of reopening. Delivery and takeaway orders play an important role in our operations and sales."

Info: Three Buns website

Kimly Group

Kimly runs 29 zi char stalls, 59 mixed-rice outlets and more than 40 dim sum outlets. PHOTO: KIMLY GROUP

During the circuit breaker period, Mr Roy Tan, director of the Kimly Group, which operates coffee shops and zi char stalls, observed a "huge spike" in new food delivery customers via Foodpanda, GrabFood and Deliveroo.

It led to a "substantial increase" in revenue as business picked up.

Last month, Kimly's new customers on Deliveroo grew by three times, while the number of orders on the platform jumped by almost four times - compared with January.

The listed company runs 29 zi char stalls, 59 mixed-rice outlets and more than 40 dim sum outlets.

When dine-in was not allowed, Mr Tan, 43, often had to rally the group's 2,000 employees. "I had to have frequent briefings with the staff and remind them that our business is essential. We had to work even harder," he recalls.

Now that dine-in has resumed, the company is working on refining its products, such as offering bento options at its mixed-rice stalls and catering meals for smaller groups since social gatherings are restricted to no more than five people.

With the brand seen as a more traditional business, Mr Tan also emphasises the need to boost its marketing and social media presence as well. Contactless payment options such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay could also be rolled out by early next year.

He says: "It has become clear over the past few months that the coffee-shop and hawker scene is important to Singapore. You can not have cakes, but you can't miss dinner.

"I believe the nightmare is over, unless we go into another circuit breaker. Delivery worked well for us and we emerged stronger."

Info: Kimly Group website

Takagi Ramen

Takagi Ramen has four outlets, in Pasir Ris, Ang Mo Kio, Jurong West and the National University of Singapore. PHOTO: TAKAGI RAMEN

The surge in demand for food delivery has become the main lifeline for casual ramen chain Takagi Ramen.

Since the circuit breaker started on April 7, the five-year-old brand saw a 200 per cent increase in delivery orders - across food delivery platforms Deliveroo, Foodpanda, GrabFood and Oddle - compared with previous months.

That has been a relief for the chain's operations manager Joven Tok, 27, who says the chain was already expecting a 20 to 30 per cent drop in revenue in March.

In April, it saw a 600 per cent jump in new customers on Deliveroo, compared with previous months. Orders also tripled on the food delivery platform.

Takagi Ramen has four outlets, in Pasir Ris, Ang Mo Kio, Jurong West and the National University of Singapore (NUS). The NUS outlet is currently closed but likely to reopen soon.

The chain has adapted to the Covid-19 situation and minimised business disruption through measures include managing manpower effectively.

For example, service staff were redeployed to manage the call centre, set up two months ago to manage delivery, while dishwashers took on safe distancing roles.

Mr Tok says: "It's all about adapting efficiently and retraining staff where we have to."

With the surge in demand for delivery and takeaway, he was quick to stock up on takeaway boxes and food ingredients - in case of disruption to supplies.

Riding on the bubble tea craze during the circuit breaker period - when stores selling the popular beverage were not allowed to open - Takagi Ramen worked with local start-up FrothTea to sell its drinks via delivery. The beverages are still sold at the eateries.

And the business is expanding. A fifth Takagi Ramen outlet in Woodlands is slated to open in October.

On the current state of the food and beverage scene, he adds: "It is very sad to see eateries closing. Not everyone is able to adapt quickly and we were able to survive because we were already on delivery platforms.

"We didn't have to worry about getting used to how it works. As people get used to food delivery, it also works as a form of marketing and visibility for the brand."

Info: Takagi Ramen website

Dylan Tan, 27, Facebook Live host

Mr Dylan Tan hosts live sessions on Facebook group Singapore Home Cooks selling ingredients such as live lobsters and French butter. PHOTO: SINGAPORE HOME COOKS

Five minutes is all Mr Dylan Tan takes to sell 700 live lobsters, 1,600 brioche buns, 1,200 blocks of French butter and 800 do-it-yourself chilli crab sets - and all via Facebook.

The former curtain salesman hosts live sessions on Facebook group Singapore Home Cooks (SHC), a community of cooking enthusiasts with more than 58,000 followers.

During one session last month, he peddled more than 5,400kg of durians in about two hours.

He says: "At a shop, you are selling products to one person or a few people. On Facebook Live, you could be selling to 1,000 people. You could sell 800 tubs of yogurt in five minutes. How do you do that in a physical store?"

The savvy salesman honed his skills for the past few years at mc.2, a curtains and blinds supplier, where he still retains a marketing role.

When shops had to shut during the circuit breaker period, a Facebook Live hosting gig with SHC became a new revenue stream.

He was previously working behind the scenes shooting video content for the group, but is now its main "auntie-killer" face, whom members see almost daily.

Views of the live-stream sessions have surged to more than 10,000 in the past few months. When Mr Tan started with weekly sessions in March, he got only about 200 views.

Unlike other businesses that also sell food via Facebook Live, Mr Tan adds value with cooking demonstrations with chefs and themed nights such as Japan or Korea nights featuring produce used in the country's cuisine.

Calling himself a "personal shopper", he sources for premium ingredients directly from suppliers - usually in bulk - to keep prices reasonable.

It can take up to two weeks to prepare for one Facebook Live session and, after the show is over, Mr Tan and his team often face sleepless nights managing orders and ensuring deliveries go out promptly.

He does not just sell food. During the circuit breaker period, he also sold freezers due to customer demand.

He says: "I don't sell eggs you can get from the supermarket. I look for mid-priced to high-end products such as uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe) and Japanese wagyu. People are still willing to spend on celebrations or to share good deals with friends and family."

Riding on this on-trend sales avenue, Mr Tan, who also runs his own digital marketing company, is looking at offering classes on utilising Facebook Live.

Sales and viewership have dipped since physical retail reopened in phase two, but Mr Tan believes that consumers have got used to this method of online shopping.

He adds: "It is a growing trend in Singapore. People see it as a form of entertainment and are open to it as a new way to shop. If not for the circuit breaker, this sales method wouldn't have caught on so quickly."

But that does not mean it works for all products. It would, for instance, be tough to sell curtains online.

Mr Tan chuckles and says: "I considered it, but everyone has different window measurements and people need to feel the fabric. Facebook Live can work for clothes, food and even make-up, but customising 800 curtain orders would be very tricky."

Info: Singapore Home Cooks

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