It takes a community to lift a brand

In conjunction with the World Intellectual Property Day celebrations this month, themed "Eat, Live & Love IP", SME Spotlight is showcasing four local firms at the forefront of innovation and creativity. In the second of a four-part series, Yasmine Yahya speaks to Kki Sweets co-founder Delphine Liau about how it protects its brand.

Q How did you get started in this business?
A My husband and I went to Japan in 2007 for our honeymoon and loved the dainty, light mousse cakes we had there. When we returned, we were sad that we couldn't find such cakes here, so we decided to try to make our own.

My husband has always been a good cook and baker, so he started baking. Now, he still bakes our cakes, while I look after the operations and manage the shop floor.

Q How do you make cakes that stand out from the crowd?
A In the beginning, we referred to recipes from books by renowned pastry chefs such as Pierre Herme and Hidemi Sugino. We took their ideas and techniques and then improvised for the local palate.

For example, we have a cake called the Kinabaru. It's a play on the French mont blanc dessert, which is a chestnut cream cake named after the mountain in the Alps. Well, we have Mount Kinabalu nearby, and our Kinabaru cake is coconut mousse with passionfruit.

Q Beyond making unique cakes, what have you done to ensure that copycats do not steal your ideas and replicate your products?
A It's very tough to intellectually protect recipes and we feel it doesn't matter. What's more important is protecting our brand.

Branding is very important for the long term. People will learn to recognise your signature products and spot the copycats.

And most importantly you have to be creative, move faster, create more seasonal items and keep moving so that copycats cannot catch up.

Q Still, did you take steps to protect your intellectual property?
A We registered the logos for Kki Sweets and Kki Home, which is our line of plates. We also registered the design of our plates.

But there's only so much that paperwork can help you with.

We want to create brand awareness from the ground, by engaging our community so that people will know who we are, that this is our logo, this is our brand.

Q How do you plan to do that?
A We're working on getting the creative community together for events and festivals at Sota.

If a violinist wants to come and play in our shop, why not? If the school wants its students to use our shop window as a wall for graffiti art, go ahead.

The steps in front of Sota would make a natural area for performances. And throughout April, we are holding demonstration classes on making souffle cheesecake as part of the month-long World Intellectual Property Day festival.

Q How are you reaching out to the people who pass through this area, who are mostly students?
A We're in a school, in the middle of Singapore's arts hub. We asked ourselves, how do we reach out to the young people in this area? So from now until September, we are specialising in cheesecake bars at half the price of our usual cakes.

We all grew up eating cheesecake. Young people love cheesecake. But most cheesecakes in Singapore still come in a few standard flavours. Why can't we do more, make better-quality cheesecake with better ingredients?

Q What are your growth plans for Kki Sweets?
A Our idea is to set up something called the Kki Sweets Factory. Students from culinary schools have to complete an internship programme before graduating but, quite often, the internships they undergo don't give them real work exposure.

We would love for someone to co-invest with us to start a production kitchen with cutting-edge equipment, where we can train young pastry chefs on how to make high-quality pastries.

For example, maybe four days out of the week, they can produce our pastries and, on the fifth day, they have to collectively come up with new recipes and a marketing plan, say to launch three seasonal cakes. Then we can market and sell their pastries at our shop.

I see this as a way of teaching young chefs about craftsmanship and about all the high-tech machinery that we could use to take our industry forward. And maybe in future, it can even be a kind of theme park, where kids come and learn about what pastry chefs do.

Q The F&B scene is already quite crowded - how do you think this would help the sector?
A There's oversupply now. There are too many cake shops. But if the quality of cakes in Singapore improves, I believe demand would improve too.

In Tokyo, there are 1,500 shops focusing on just mousse cakes alone. There are thousands more selling other types of cakes. And yet they all can survive because there is high demand for their products, which are of premium quality.

Singaporeans are well-travelled and discerning; they know what good-quality products taste like, so we have to elevate the quality of our products.

This article was first published on April 20, 2016.
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