In 2018, three brothers — Kenny Chan, 35, Johnathan Chan, 32 and Kayson Chan, 29 — saw an opportunity to bring in sophisticated gourmet food inspired by Italian culture into Singapore.
The trio realised that consumers are getting more and more sophisticated with their choices of food.
They then started experimenting with bold flavours and incorporating them into potato chips to add a modern twist to the conventional snack.
They particularly used truffles, which are a highly coveted type of mushroom in Italian cuisine, and are widely known as the “The Mozart of Mushrooms”.
Marrying Truffles With Potato Chips
After testing out different combinations, the brothers successfully created truffle-flavoured chips that come with generous bits of real Italian Black Summer Truffles.
Johnathan used to be an award-winning sous chef under Celebrity Chef Heman of Jack’s Place. With his knowledge and expertise in western cuisine, he came up with the winning recipe.
With that, made-in-Singapore brand Aroma Truffle was conceptualised in 2018. The Black Summer Truffles that go into each packet are sourced from the farms of Spoleto, Italy.
According to the Truffle Hunter, Black Summer Truffles come with “an incredible flavouring consisting of garlic, wild mushroom and earthy hazelnut undertones”.
Each packet of our truffle chips contains real, precious truffles. We have to keep the proportion of the Italian truffles controlled — not too much and not too little, with a right balance.
Together with the use of other fine seasonings like parsley, sea salt and olive oil, we managed to create a synergistic enhancement to its overall appearance, fragrance and flavour.– Kayson Chan, co-founder and Business Development & Marketing Director of Aroma Truffle
They are the only truffle chips brand made in Singapore and they proudly call themselves the “World’s Strongest Truffle Chips”.
The claim actually came from one of their customers.
Subsequently, they kept receiving similar feedback and decided to use that as their tagline, which was in line with their vision — to create the strongest and the best truffle snack in the market.
By placing this claim in our tagline, it keeps us in check and to make sure that every batch of products is of quality and supports our claim, which is to be the strongest truffle snack brand.
I doubt you will find any other retail truffle chips in the market that has a stronger aromatic experience than ours… for the time being.– Kayson Chan, co-founder and Business Development & Marketing Director of Aroma Truffle
Since its soft launch in July 2018, the trio have sold more than 100,000 kilograms of their signature wavy-cut truffle chips.
In early April 2019, Aroma Truffle opened its first flagship store at Chinatown Point Mall, followed by four other outlets within a year.
Why Aroma Truffle Prices Its Chips At S$10 A Bag
A bag of Aroma Truffle chips — whether Original, Honey Dijon or Parmesan Cheese flavour — costs just S$10.
It made me wonder how they manage to keep their truffle chips at such low price points — considering that truffles are the rarest and most expensive fungi in the world.
Truffles can sell as much as thousands of dollars per pound because it is painstakingly difficult to find and grow them.
Our truffles are sourced directly in bulk quantities from a truffle farm based in Spoleto Italy, via direct import without going through a third-party distributor.
Hence, we are able to price our snacks much more competitively than other gourmet snacks in the market.– Kayson Chan, co-founder and Business Development & Marketing Director of Aroma Truffle
This is why they are able to keep their cost prices much lower than other gourmet snack manufacturers and pass on the value to their customers.
Keeping “Copycats” At Bay
One of the challenges faced by many leading food retailers is the threat posed by ‘copycats’ in the market.
Due to the high food cost involved in our unique recipes, the feasibility of mimicking and retailing a product at the same retail price with similar quality is seemingly unfeasible.– Kayson Chan, co-founder and Business Development & Marketing Director of Aroma Truffle
Furthermore, Aroma Truffle’s secret infusion techniques that go into creating their signature products help to fend off competition.
“The source, cost and quality of the truffle ingredients itself play a key factor in knocking out our competitors,” he said.
Competing With Salted Egg Fish Skin Snacks
The Chan brothers had started Aroma Truffle with just S$30,000 from their own savings, with S$10,000 borrowed from their parents, which was subsequently returned after the business kicked off.
On challenges, Kayson shared that they had also kept their full-time jobs while working on Aroma Truffle as a side hustle. As a result, they were very overwhelmed with cooking and fulfilling orders.
Kayson was in a business development role in A*STAR prior to setting up Aroma Truffle, while Kenny used to be in the marine industry.
Johnathan, as mentioned earlier, was a sous chef who won first place at Epicurean Star Award Singapore 2015.
They also had a hard time negotiating with truffle and potato suppliers for lower cost prices as their initial production was too small.
As a result, they had to absorb most of the costs and retail their products at paper-thin profit margins.
Additionally, it was a tough competition within the gourmet snack industry as most consumers were obsessed with then-popular snacks like salted egg fish skin.
“Our products are tasty and good, but our presence was little known to the public as we merely left them on the shelves in the supermarkets,” said Kayson.
They could have built a stronger brand in the early stage of their business instead of “leaving all the retail work to their distributor”.
Their truffle chips only became more well-known in late 2018 when they opened up their first retail kiosk at Raffles Xchange.
Looking back, the reactions from the corporate buyers made us really proud of our products. The “aroma” spread quickly through the CBD district. In a short time, we started seeing and “smelling” Aroma Truffle in many office pantries.– Kayson Chan, co-founder and Business Development & Marketing Director of Aroma Truffle
On the annual revenue they rake in, Kayson revealed that it is a “7-figure sum”.
Since inception, they have sold more than a million packets of truffle chips.
How Aroma Truffle Disrupted The Snack Industry
“We are lucky enough to be able to identify this market gap early on and fill this gap which is the lack of affordable truffle products within Asia,” said Kayson.
Besides their website, their products are also available at leading supermarkets Cold Storage and FairPrice.
“We wanted to make a premium ingredient like truffle accessible to more people,” he added.
According to a report by Nielsen, it shows that despite the tough competition and fast-changing global trends, one of the promising FMCG categories is snack foods.
The snacks business grew US$3.4 billion (S$4.6 billion) globally in 2017 and many emerging markets rose to the top of those with an increased appetite for snacks.
As a result, there is a need to embrace and drive innovation in the F&B industry to capture the demand and stay relevant in the market.
At Aroma Truffle, their R&D team, led by Johnathan and consisting of trained chefs, are always experimenting and coming up with new products.
One of their latest creations is the first-ever truffle mooncakes that were launched in August 2019, sold out completely and was one of the top 25 brands at the Takashimaya mooncake fair.
They are hoping to take the world by storm with their truffle chips.
They have since expanded to Brunei, China (Tmall.com), Malaysia, The Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand via a physical or e-commerce model.
They are also “sniffing” out other developed (such as UAE, Japan, Australia, Canada and USA) and emerging markets (such as Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia).
Featured Image Credit: chewy-jas.blogspot.com / Aroma Truffle