In just four years, gourmet snack purveyor The Golden Duck Company has gone from novelty to international phenomenon. Launching in 2015 as a pop-up booth selling potato crisps and fried fish skins coated with a salted duck-egg sauce, the company’s products are now staples at convenience stores and supermarkets. With eight of its own outlets across Singapore, The Golden Duck has also expanded to China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Cofounders Jonathan Shen and Christopher Hwang believe there’s a simple reason for their success. “A passion for authentic Asian flavours!” says Mr Shen. “We travel the continent looking for street food that can inspire the finest quality snacking experiences – using only real ingredients and crafted almost entirely by hand.”
Pioneering a new snack trend
The duo’s decision to focus on gourmet snacks stemmed from their experience running other ventures together, notably in Singapore’s food and beverage industry.
“A few years back, a salted egg-yolk sauce craze started sweeping Singapore’s restaurant scene,” says Mr Shen. “It’s long been a staple condiment here, but suddenly, the sauce was being added to all kinds of new foods, from croissants to cookies and ice cream. We saw how demand was growing, so we figured people would also be keen to sample the flavour in snack form.”
The partners’ savvy business instincts paid off. It wasn’t long before their initial salted-egg crisps were flying off the shelves. As demand for The Golden Duck’s range grew, they added a fish-skin version and a chilli crab seaweed tempura.
“We want to champion the authentic taste of Singapore in our packaged snacks,” says Mr Hwang. “But we also aim our products at the more discerning customer – those who are willing to pay a little more for fine quality.”
Capturing international growth opportunities
At first, the fledgling company focused on producing just 50 packets of snacks a day. “We were very hands-on. We did whatever needed to be done, from working long hours slicing potatoes in a small 300-square-foot kitchen to driving around making deliveries,” says Mr Hwang.
A turning point came after just a few months when the partners found themselves battling to keep up with demand. “Finding extra staff who were willing to work for the relatively low wage we could offer became a major challenge. Sourcing properly equipped kitchens that could allow us to scale up production was another,” Mr Shen recalls.
They also saw that their products were finding a ready market among tourists visiting Singapore from other parts of Southeast Asia. “Many were buying in bulk to take home as gifts,” says Mr Hwang.
The partners realised that there was tremendous potential to scale and grow their business, but expanding required additional resources, Mr Hwang says.
We lacked the production facilities and working capital to embark on an expansion journey.CHRISTOPHER HWANG
In 2017, backed by strong support from business partner HSBC, they took the risky step of striking out overseas.
“It was scary,” says Mr Shen. “We were an unknown brand in the markets we wanted to penetrate, and we knew very little about our potential audiences there. We decided to set up a series of local partnerships to better understand how to operate in our chosen areas.”
The pair also established their first factory in Singapore with the help of a loan from HSBC. “We decided to lease our own 3,000-square-foot production facility to streamline our production and drive scale. We also ordered $25,000 worth of machinery from Alibaba,” recalls Mr Hwang.
“We knew we were taking risks – would using factory materials affect our products’ authentic flavour?
We were highly fortunate to draw on HSBC’s support as we worked out a winning strategy to accelerate our growth.CHRISTOPHER HWANG
Dedicated support from an experienced partner
HSBC’s wide network of business banking and international expertise was a major reason that The Golden Duck’s cofounders were confident about leaping into the unknown.
“We joined the HSBC Pioneer programme, which provides flexible support and expertise to high-growth businesses,” says Mr Shen. “As a result, we were able to have a custom lending facility set up quickly, bypassing the need to seek equity partners. That support has been a major factor in helping The Golden Duck grow to a company with 150 employees. We are expanding faster into new markets than our competitors.”
We work closely with an HSBC relationship manager, who has a sophisticated understanding of our evolving banking needs.CHRISTOPHER HWANG
“It’s a really positive working relationship – they constantly push us to go further,” Mr Hwang adds.
HSBC’s tailored solutions will stand the company in good stead as it continues to grow beyond Singapore’s borders, says Ng Li Lian, Country Head of Business Banking at HSBC Singapore. “Through our Pioneer programme that’s designed to support fast growing businesses, we want to keep The Golden Duck’s momentum going. And as the largest business banking network in Asia, we offer the tailored solutions and flexibility that can support the company’s ambitions and help it reach its next level of growth.”
Looking ahead, The Golden Duck is cooking up plans for further expansion. These include penetrating five new regional markets, including Indonesia and Thailand, and expanding aggressively in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“It’s going to be an exciting year,” says Mr Hwang. “We’d never have got this far without the great team of highly experienced people at HSBC who believed in us from day one.”