My name is Michelle Chai and this is my story which goes hand in hand with Kintry’s story. I used to work in marketing, photography and event management and later became a stay at home mom. My youth years was spent in boarding school in Melbourne hence the Western influence in my range of products.
I realized there’s a stigma to divorced women, single moms or even just moms. I’m actually a single mum and I’m wasn’t sure if I wanted to share this story. On one hand I would love to have other single mothers who are struggling come to me if they need the support and on the other hand I guess I’m just worried about what others think.
After attending a FEMxTALK event and listening to what the women talked about earlier made me realize that it doesn’t matter what other people think, what matters is what we think and what we can do to help others.
I went through quite a traumatic time with my mums passing and a divorce in a short time of each other (I didn’t want to mention the divorce at first as I didn’t want this to be a defining moment in my life and I used to think people may judge or sympathize with me, see the stigma here?) I started to notice how women are shamed for so many things. If they work people will say they don’t spend enough time with the children, if they stay at home people will say they don’t have a career or something for themselves. It’s really unnecessary for women to feel guilt over these kind of things, there really isn’t a rule book on the choices we make and if we as women feel good about the way we want to raise our family or build our career then it’s great.
During this period I was really searching for myself and for something I could make my daughter proud of. I really wanted her to grow up strong and gracious and to realize she could do anything she wanted and she could do it with the strength inside her. This is why the brand and processes revolved around her.
My mother loved to cook, she had those old diaries and she used to cut up newspaper recipes from The Star or she would write them into the pages and it would just stacks of books filled with recipes. So with that I took her journals and started to experiment on my own. Due to Amelie having severe allergies to eggs and nuts when she was younger I had to cook and bake at home most of the time so these journals came in handy.
I started baking lots at home and started supplying cupcakes, cakes and cookies to other small businesses but it was a difficult business to sustain due to the deliveries and lifespan of the items. One day I passed some snacks to a few friends of mine and they loved it and asked me to try selling it, before I knew it one thing led to another and I started this little project from home in August 2017, making small batches for friends to order. I took a long break from December 2017 and couldn’t decide if I really wanted to go into a business like this full-time. Finally one day, my friend, Andy Wong, saw the potential and encouraged me into taking the leap of faith. He came in to run operations and sales and in April 2018 we looked for a small shop-lot to operate out of and applied for our Sdn Bhd in August 2018.
Cooking in the wok at home.
Exhausted from washing the new trays.
Testing out cookies in our new kitchen.
Many factors played a role in the growth and the most important ones are in my support system, my father, who gave me unconditional love, my sister for being the best aunty to Amelie, my friends for being the ultimate cheerleaders and my partner Andy who gave me the confidence to keep going out there and to push myself and the company further. They played a huge role in the ideas to the products and recipes. They gave me inspiration, ideas and support. They were willing to try my products and give me constructional feedback and deal with my countless packaging photo ideas. Therefore I really believe it’s important for every woman or man to have a good support system and if they feel they don’t, just reach out, you never know who’s out there just waiting for you to help you.
My daughter is still my biggest inspiration and becoming a mother made me want to be a better role model for my daughter. She inspired me to be more creative with my work. It was important for me to show her how to love what you do and be happy doing it. I wanted to show her that we can do anything we wanted, that we can have the strength of being an independent women and the grace of being a mother.
Behind the name
Coming from a family who loves food we would always look into the pantry for snacks to eat. It made me come up with a few names and this name stuck. Kintry is short for Kindred Pantry, I went through a couple of names with Amelie, who was about 2 at the time. We tried some longer names and some shorter words and when she liked a few of the phrases I put them together and asked her to choose one and she loved Kintry.
Coincidentally the name sounds like “坚持” in Chinese which means persevere therefore we now use this as our Chinese name too. It has lots of meaning for me and the business, to persevere through the hard times and to never stop moving forward.
Behind the products
The recipes were created by me through countless nights of R&D. People who know me know that i am a super random person, it would just suddenly hit me that I wanted to test a certain recipe and I would wait till Amelie fell asleep and I would creep into the kitchen and spend my nights testing recipes. While I was testing the Salted Egg Yolk Crisps, one of my neighbors told me she could smell the curry leaves at like 2am!
The granolas came to me on a whim while I was having cendol and caramel popcorn (on difeerent occasions of course). I absolutely love the taste of gula melaka and salted caramel! The salted caramel granola it was one of my hardest recipes to master and I just couldn’t seem the get the texture right.
Behind the packaging
Our 1st edition pacakaging was just a clear pack with a Kintry logo sticker on the top.
The 1st edition!
If you noticed our 2nd edition packaging has a little girl looking into a bottle, it is actually a portrayal of Amelie and its perfect because she’s such a curious soul so every time she looks at the packaging she says, “that’s me right ma? I love to look at things!” She was my main inspiration for the brand, the name. the cookies was made specially for her and every time I baked a batch she would come running to the kitchen for more.
Mockup of the 2nd edition
Our latest edition has snapshots of my family. We wanted a very cultural Malaysian element to it, naturally as we’re proud to be Malaysians! As you can see the each image tells a story, be it my dad and Amelie buying snacks from the rotiman or my mum, sister, nephew and Amelie having breakfast at a cafe in melaka. The sketches are drawn by a very talented local artist, Szetoo Weiwen, to draw the illustrations on our new packaging. With her very Malaysian illustrations, we are really hoping to bring bits of our memories and culture to everyone.
Mockups before we printed the pacakaging
Collaborate to build healthier communities
I really believe that for small businesses like mine, collaboration is essential. Working together with other small companies to do something different just makes the process fun and fruitful. The best part is just meeting these amazing inspiring people along the way and listening to their stories. Being supportive of each other in a community just makes me all warm and fuzzy.
I won’t lie that it’s been a tough but I’m very thankful for my friends and family who have been supportive throughout this journey. My father has been the best support system and has given me so much encouragement throughout. Being thankful that the process has made me grow and be more resilient to the things that are coming.
Taking control of your finances and making sure I don’t overspend is a huge obstacle, there’s so much costs that we just don’t see, ie certifications, equipment, staffing, day-to-day operations but I am learning as I go. With expansion you need cash flow, strategic business partners/allies and investors.
I think the key here is to patient with yourself and the people around you, it’s a learning process for the whole team and as humans we are bound to make mistakes. My partner Andy has been a real motivator, there were times where i would just want to give up but he just pushes on, i think having a good partner and team is essential to any business.
This has been a tiring but very rewarding journey as I have learnt so much throughout the process. Trust that every action has a consequence and sometimes you may not see the rewards yet, but it will come, and even through failure the reward we get is the lesson we learn. Don’t overthink too much, just do what is necessary and the rest will fall into place be it good or bad.
When we first started we joined lots of pop-ups around Klang Valley and meeting customers and talking to them gave us a lot of insight. Just seeing how everyone was happy eating the snacks is a great achievement for Kintry, when customers come back and tell you what they love about the snacks it just makes you feel happy when you’ve made someone else happy. I remember thinking in the beginning about whether the snacks would ever be on supermarket shelves. So when our first batch of stocks were placed we were ecstatic and it was a major milestone for the brand.
On shelves at Ben's Independent Grocers
The first event we attended was RIUH and we sold out in a couple of hours, I remember having to rush back to the kitchen and bake a couple of batches for the next day and we kept sending more stock to the venue. Getting such an amazing response from everyone out there really nailed it for us and gave us the confidence to move forward.
First booth at RIUH.
Another big milestone for us is receiving our HALAL certification from Jakim, this is quite an important certificate to have in Malaysia. We have received our Buatan Malaysia and MESTi certifications too and will be looking to get our HACCP in the future when we expand to a new space.
I have a small social initiative called Kintry Kindness, it’s basically just a way where we reach out to help others. We work closely with Sze Women of Hope and UNHCR running classes and helping out when we can with refugees. We donate when we can to various homeless shelters and food banks around KL. Going for talks earlier made me realise there’s a need to reach out, especially to women. Some have the strength to be able to have a voice but there are many who don’t and feel bullied. I don’t know what I can offer right now but I just want them to know they have a voice and I would love to help in any way possible, even with simple things like leading them towards the support lines for counselling or shelters. I hope to get more involved with youth and women and would love to work on self-confidence and anti-bullying in schools and workplaces in the future.
Baking classes at Mon Refugee centre.
We also work closely with oil recyclers and food waste companies to try to minimise our environmental impact.
Options, The Edge “Kintry sells artisanal treats, including salted-egg-yolk potato crisps”Vulcan Post “How This M’sian Grew Her F&B Business From Her Kitchen To Major Supermarkets”