From niche to mainstream: Singapore brand taps healthy snacking trend with guilt-free chips
“There are almost no other vacuum-dehydrated fruit and vegetable chips like ours in the market. If we are able to spread the word far enough, our chips could become a mainstream snack. I don’t mind having more competitors, as long as it makes the whole food scene better than it is today.
“Take Oatly for example — more than 10 years ago, no one had the habit of drinking oat milk. But now, it’s in high demand and there are so many companies coming out with it. Oatly was a trendsetter, and that’s what I want to do with our chips,” Emily Chu, founder of Hey! Chips, told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Launched in 2018, the firm has seen a 300% year-over-year growth rate for the past two years, and is projecting an annual growth of 200% in revenue for the next few years.
An insight Chu has gleaned from talking to distributors around the world is that the definition of healthy snacking diverges among different populations.
“In Singapore, people think of healthy snacks as products that are low in sugar and fat. In Hong Kong, the main emphasis is on food safety. They are always asking about food origins and the manufacturing process. We found that European consumers consider oil and sugar as ‘part of the game’ in snacks, and that they are more concerned about whether a product is allergen-free or is it plant-based.
“As our products are fully traceable from farm to table, halal-certified, suitable for vegan and gluten-free diets, and do not contain any additives, they fit the bill in all these markets,” Chu explained.
Hey! Chips is retailing at independent grocers such as Little Farms, as well as online platforms like Lazada, Shopee and Foodpanda, in Singapore.
The brand is also available at close to 100 physical and online stores in Hong Kong, while expansion into Malaysia, China, Maldives, Mauritius, Malta and the United States are underway.
Ingredients for success
Hey! Chips adopts NASA’s food preparation method to dehydrate entire slices of fruits and vegetables, which not only locks in nutrients and reduces oxidation, but also retains natural flavours and delivers a crispy texture.
The process of farm-sourcing, finding the right types of produce, securing machinery, and product creation took a good three years.
Today, the manufacturing is done in factories in Thailand that are located near the farms where the ingredients are directly bought from.
Among the nine SKUs in its product line, each pack weighs between 20g and 40g.
Citing portion control as a reason, Chu said: “During the dehydration process, a 200g head of broccoli loses about 90% of its weight. Each pack is the amount one would normally eat in one sitting. We want to ensure that each portion will not make you overeat.”
Love calls from overseas
The first few years of Hey! Chips business was met with setbacks caused by the pandemic, including cancellation of contracts with big companies like Bloomberg, Google and Facebook.
“They got us to stock their pantries but suddenly the offices were closed, and they had to take back their orders. Nevertheless, we pivoted into B2C and did well with gift boxes,” Chu shared.
In 2022, Hey! Chips achieved a record annual sale of 180,000 packs across all markets, with Singapore as the top-performing market.
Despite the volatile global economy, the responses from overseas markets are encouraging for the firm, whose immediate focus is on scaling up to meet the increasing demand.
“We have been getting a lot of international orders. I don’t want to reach a point whereby I have orders to fulfil but no manpower to produce, so we are trying to multiply our output by 10 to 20 times,” said Chu.
For the whole of last year, the team worked to raise output by setting up three other factories in different parts of Thailand.
“I had to teach the know-how to the manufacturing teams, such as the product-making processes, and temperature and time control of the machines. We also needed to obtain halal certification for the factories,” she added.
At the moment, the factories have the capacity to produce 500,000 packs a month.
Back in Singapore, entrance into mainstream retailers or supermarkets is in the pipeline, although Chu revealed that the firm is “looking for investors” before making the commitment.