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They persevered through a café closure & 3-digit savings to sell cheese platters in Sabah

The space for online cheese platter businesses has become competitive, presumably due to the low barrier to entry when it comes to ingredient sourcing and product delivery.

Just recently, we wrote about one in KL started by a serial businesswoman to help her homemaker friends earn an income. On the other hand, for this Kota Kinabalu business, Dolfin Platters, its founders’ tipping point to enter this market came after the closure of their café 2 months into the first MCO.

“By the second MCO in September 2020, we had very little income and our bank accounts were really left with less than 3 digits,” said Dolly, who added that she had just given birth to her second child at the time.

With a growing family to feed, the husband and wife duo sold off the kitchen equipment from their café. They managed to raise around RM2,500, which was then channeled into launching Dolfin Platters, along with an additional RM1,000 from selling their home cooking to peers.

Selling food to put food on the table

The café Dolly and Hanson operated together pre-pandemic was mainly a kids’ café complemented by a playground area inside it. 

Dolly was 2 months pregnant when the MCO first hit, and to give their café a fighting chance, they offered takeaway, delivery, and food kit packages, albeit to no avail.

Unable to sustain operations, they decided to shut the café down. But with a family of 5 to feed (including Dolly’s mum and grandma), Hanson began cooking at home to deliver food, in hopes to earn some form of income. 

Business never really picked up though, so they decided to take a different approach by selling a different product altogether.

From a café to a cheesy business

Dolfin Platters was named after Dolly and Hanson, who got the nickname “Fintu” (Hakka dialect) from his basketball team in school. Combining their names together, they came up with “Dolfin”, using a dolphin illustration in their logo. 

Stumbling upon cheese platter photos on Instagram was a light bulb moment for Dolly. She showed them to Hanson, and they attempted to make cheese platters for dinners with family and friends. 

Cheese platters were relatively new in Sabah at the time, according to Dolly, which was an opportune time for them to penetrate the market. 

Pretty cheese platters to celebrate any occasion / Image Credit: Dolfin Platters

Although the couple enjoyed consuming cheese, they weren’t too knowledgeable about its pairings, textures, and types.

“We sold our first box to a friend’s sister for RM88, but the feedback was not good because we didn’t get the packaging and decoration right,” Dolly recalled. That was their push to start seeking out better-looking packaging and to learn more about cheeses. 

“We also learnt to have the best combination of soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses, so that our customers are able to try different types of cheeses in one platter,” she stated.

After starting out by selling to family and friends, they slowly found more customers who were ordering the products for parties. Customers also requested more variety so the brand expanded to offer pastries as well, made by the café’s former pastry supplier.

Beginning to thrive in the lockdown

As the MCO extended again for the 3rd and 4th time—in Sabah, at least—Dolfin Platters began seeing higher demands from customers who were deprived of delicacies that were less accessible at home.

Having already expanded to offer pastries, Dolfin Platters soon launched a high tea set, which Dolly reported is now a hot-selling item. 

However, cheese platters still remain their best sellers due to their affordability from RM68 (1pax portion) to RM298 (which includes wine). Dolfin Platters also offers premium platters containing caviar and truffle cheeses which cost over RM500.

They’ve got assorted pastries too / Image Credit: Dolfin Platters

These prices are actually aligned with the expected market range for cheese platters made and sold by KL businesses. But in terms of Sabahan offerings, there appears to be limited options for cheese platters online. nomsgrazer was one of the only other names I could find prices for (upon reaching out), and theirs cost between RM65 – RM550, which is also within the market range.

Hence, there would be ample market share up for grabs for Dolfin Platters to make a name for itself in the Sabahan cheese platter market. But Dolly doesn’t want to limit Dolfin Platters to just that; she’s looking at the gifting industry in general.

There’s a larger market to tackle

As we’re not only competing with platter businesses but also the baking ones as a whole, we have a lot of competition in the gifting industry within Sabah,” Dolly explained, adding that most bakers in Sabah also provide delivery services, especially during MCO.

With malls and shops able to welcome foot traffic again, she also highlighted that other gifting businesses like fragrances, cosmetics, chocolates, etc. are considered as competition too.

“Meanwhile, for high tea sets, we need to compete with restaurants and cafés that also offer the same,” Dolly pointed out.

For Dolfin Platters to sustain itself and stand out, the team will be focusing their efforts on the quality of their products and services. This would hopefully encourage customers to return. 

Furthermore, Dolfin Platters dedicates 70% of its marketing efforts to keep its existing customers satisfied, while the remaining 30% is used to acquire new customers.

It likely worked in Dolfin Platters’ favour, as Dolly shared that the brand currently has a returning customer rate of 45%.

Catering to VVIPs

A perfect centrepiece for any event / Image Credit: Dolfin Platters

Since launching in October 2020, the founders’ proudest achievement was when they sold 500 platters in December 2020 for Christmas. At the time, their platters were even stocked by Lintas Supermarket, a notable grocery store brand in KK, to sell for instant gifting.

Now a year in, they’ve sold about 2,000 cheese platters. Dolfin Platters was also hired by Sabahan developer companies Jesselton Group to make a grazing table for their office event, and VTS Group to cater for their VVIPs.

“That was when we had the chance to rise up in the gifting and high-end food business,” said Dolly.

In the future, the founders hope to open a physical store to realise their dream of bringing their online business to the brick-and-mortar. The store would allow customers to browse various gifts and taste the cheeses available before making a purchase.

We already have a brand partner in Tawau, Sabah, but would definitely also wish to expand to more cities in Sabah and also to Sarawak because there are so many people from other cities and states enquiring about our products. We just had to turn them down as we are unable to deliver them.

Dolly, co-founder of Dolfin Platters
  • You can learn more about Dolfin Platters here
  • You can read about more Malaysian F&B brands we’ve covered here.

Featured Image Credit: The team at Dolfin Platters

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