Single mother Michelle Chai Li-Shen began baking allergen-free tasty treats for her daughter in 2017. “I started with baking cookies and then I would tweak the recipes accordingly. A lot of R&D went into the process but I really enjoyed the whole experience, so I guess you need to like what you are doing or it would get very boring and tedious,” she says. With encouragement from her father and friends, she began selling her baked delights and even designed her own packaging.
With a background in event management, Chai found the world of F&B to be a new experience, thus she was unsure where to begin. It was not until she got a business partner, who encouraged her to take her snacks to the next level, that she decided to put her products in grocery stores.
“To go into it full time, you have to invest in machinery. Before that, at home, I already had an oven and only had to invest in packaging, which wasn’t really that much. I was already halfway there, and I was getting a lot of orders from friends and family. So, when my partner said, ‘Why don’t you go into it full force?’, as he saw the potential, I decided to try it out,” she explains.
Chai’s business, named Kintry, sells healthy artisanal treats, namely salted-egg-yolk potato crisps, oat cookies with chocolate chips, salted butter caramel granola and pandan gula melaka granola. At the heart of the business is her aim to show her daughter that she can achieve anything she sets her mind to. “I really want her to grow up strong and gracious, and to realise that she can do anything with the strength inside of her. This is why I wanted to build this brand together with her and it’s why the name was chosen by her,” she says. Kintry is a portmanteau for “kindred pantry”.
Chai plans to add four more products to Kintry’s offerings this year. She shares that she is experimenting with macadamia white chocolate cookies, chilli garlic chips, honey granola and chocolate granola. Things are going well for her now, in contrast to the early days of her business when she faced a few hurdles: “It was hard for me to manage my expectations. Other than that, I face challenges in trying to export my products.”
With the help of her two kitchen staff, production at her shoplot in Cheras runs at full swing to keep up with her online orders and to stock the shelves at Ben’s Independent Grocer, Village Grocer as well as supply to restaurants like Ruyi & Lyn.
One of the main problems Kintry has faced recently is with product longevity. “The problem with the current packaging is that although the products’ shelf life is about three months, after about a month, everything gets a bit soft. My new packets will be full foil, which will ensure that the products last much longer.” The new look will also feature a more Malaysian design, which Chai hired Szetoo Weiwen from Stickeriffic to create. It is targeted at tourists as well as future exports. “I’m hoping to expand and export, that is why I’ve made the packaging so Malaysian. I have had a few enquiries from Korea and Singapore,” she adds.
Kintry has also been involved in some interesting projects that has helped its baked goods gain traction. “I was approached by Guardian Pharmacy a few months ago and I made Chinese New Year cookies for them. They wanted me to create three recipes and bake 500 packs of the cookies, which they gave away for free at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Starhill Gallery, 1 Utama Shopping Centre and quite a few other stores. Our cookie sales went up after that,” says Chai.
Her business is also taking a more proactive approach when it comes to social issues. “I have this part of my company, which I call Kintry Kindness. It’s basically just a way for us to reach out to help others. We’ve conducted baking classes for Mon refugee children and donated to various food banks.”
What really makes Kintry special is the hands-on efforts of its founder and the homemade quality of its snacks. “Basically, it’s all handmade. I didn’t get the recipes from outside or outsource it to anyone else to do. I know the product from the beginning to the end, where I get my supplies from, and what eggs or oats I put into the product,” Chai asserts.
This article first appeared on Apr 22, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.