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Jennifer Tan has vivid memories of her childhood. She remembers that at four years old, her grandfather would stack up chairs and place her on top to teach her how to wrap kacang tumbuk.

“The backyard of our old house, where we worked, played, and grew up, was my entire world,” she reminisced. “The rhythmic sounds of kacang tumbuk being made were the soundtrack of my childhood, echoing through my study sessions and revisions.”

Image Credit: Heritaste

After school and during holidays, Jennifer and her siblings would help their parents with their kacang tumbuk business. But despite the children’s deep involvement in the family business, their father never expected them to join it.

“He always hoped that, after university, we would find good jobs and build successful careers beyond our backyard workshop,” she explained to Vulcan Post.

And yet, today, Jennifer and her siblings are all a part of the family business, which has now evolved to adopt the name of Heritaste.

Image Credit: Heritaste

Building a family legacy

Jennifer took over the business a decade ago in 2014. Her elder sister, Annie, takes care of the retail side, while her younger brother, Alex, helps in the packaging department.

“During our family trip to Taiwan in October 2013, I saw how excited my parents were when they looked at the machines, packaging, and products like pineapple tarts, egg rolls, and cookies,” she explained the reasoning behind her decisions. “Their passion for the industry was clear.”

That was also when Jennifer realised that while they had a great product, they lacked good branding and packaging. Seeing the passion in her parents’ eyes, she wondered whether she should go back home and help them. She wondered, could she even make a difference?

“At that time, my parents were around 60 years old and starting to show their age,” she said. “They needed help, and we didn’t have enough people to keep the business running smoothly.”

Image Credit: Heritaste

There were two senior workers left in the business, and if they closed shop, those workers would lose their jobs.

Jennifer’s youngest brother was also eager to take over the business after graduation, and his willingness was a strong motivator too. Her friends and colleagues were fans of their products too, and thus supportive of her going back.

“All these reasons together made me decide to return to the family business,” she said. “I wanted to make a difference and continue the legacy my parents had built.”

Modernising the branding

One huge change that the family business witnessed was a rebrand.

“My father has always been a master at making our product, but he never knew how to handle branding, marketing, or sales,” Jennifer said. “For the first 30 years, we didn’t have a brand, and the market had no idea that such a high-quality product was being made in Jenjarom.”  

Image Credit: Heritaste

She pointed out that even the people in Jenjarom didn’t know of the brand, except for those in the neighbourhood.

So, when the second generation took over the business, they changed things up to attract and retain talented people to work with them.

In 2014, Jennifer created their brand and set up their first retail shop in Jenjarom. She wanted everyone who visited Jenjarom or the Dong Zen Temple to take home their kacang tumbuk as a gift or souvenir.

“Our goal was to position our product as a specialty of Jenjarom,” she elaborated.

Image Credit: Heritaste

From there, they expanded to Selangor, and became the proud winner of the Baik Selangor initiative by the Selangor government.

Improving the operations and offerings

Marketing aside, the business has also improved their working environment, moving from the backyard of their old wooden house to a proper shop.

They’ve also enhanced their standard operating procedures, upgraded their tools and equipment, streamlined their workflow, and invested in team training. In 2023, they obtained MESTI certification.

Through extensive R&D, they’ve also created new flavours and products. Heritaste also embraced ecommerce, with a presence on Lazada, Shopee, and on their own website. They also attend pop-up events every now and again.

“We worked hard to make our recipes better by making them less sweet and adding new flavours like less sugar, Oreo, and black sesame,” Jennifer explained.

Image Credit: Heritaste

Heritaste now offers products such as salted peanut candy, almond flake crackers, pumpkin seed crackers, rice crackers, and heirloom rice crackers.

For the rice crackers, Heritaste has partnered with Langit, a social enterprise that supports local heirloom rice farmers from Sarawak highlands.

To accommodate this growth, the team has grown too, becoming a vibrant, multiracial team of talents.

“Throughout these changes, we have upheld our father’s teachings: conducting business with integrity, prioritising quality over quantity, and believing in the philosophy that ‘slow work ensures quality; slow is fast’,” Jennifer added.

Image Credit: Heritaste

Regarding the name “Heritaste”, Jennifer said that she simply loves the word “heritage”. “We are inheriting not only the business and the traditional taste of our old snack but also a taste of memories and times gone by.”

Embracing rural life

As Jennifer says, Heritaste is not just about snacks. One big thing they hope to do is empower the local youths to feel motivated to do their best, filled with happiness and purpose in their work.

Yet, recruiting and retaining quality talents has been a big challenge for the business.

Image Credit: Heritaste

“In 2017, a group of youths decided to leave our hometown for better opportunities in the city,” she said. “It was a tough decision, but I’m grateful my family supported me through it all. My siblings and my mother pitched in to help with production during those challenging times.”

Some of those youngsters eventually returned, realising that making a living in the city wasn’t easy. In any case, the experience pushed Jennifer to learn how to better lead a team and the importance of sharing a vision and mission with everyone.

“Communication became key. I empowered my team, established clear workflows, and provided training to improve their skills,” she said. “We continued hiring newcomers to share their skills and build a stronger team. I also created career paths for our team.”

The ambition here is to encourage more young people to return home and make a difference in the town’s growth.

“As we’ve grown, I wonder if kacang tumbuk can still support families. I believe in its potential, but without recognition or a strong brand, it’s undervalued,” Jennifer mused.

“If we can change this, our business could thrive, even in our hometown. The rural life is beautiful, and building a career here is rewarding.”

Image Credit: Heritaste

They also want to offer a glimpse of this beauty with those in the city. Jennifer shared that they hope to open a Heritaste outlet in KL.

This will be one step towards being a leading and representative traditional snack brand for Malaysia, allowing the Jenjarom-based business to build an even more vibrant and attractive scene for local talents.

  • Learn more about Heritaste here.
  • Read more articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Heritaste

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)