Cover Some of the many different varieties of kombu butter sold by Butterbae.Co

Founder Samantha Tan reflects on the ups, downs and lessons learnt from one year in the business

When the Movement Control Order (MCO) started last year, Penang homemaker Samantha Tan Yen Yee found she suddenly had excess free time. Cooped up at home with nowhere to go, she did what many Malaysians did—head into the kitchen.

Tan, however, wasn’t satisfied with cooking just anything. Inspired by the increasing popularity of keto diets, she wanted to create something healthy but one that would also remind people of their favourite dining experiences.

She eventually settled on kombu butter, which is butter flavoured with cured kelp. Having previously tried it in Japan and Singapore, Tan loved how it added a good amount of umami to her food.

“I wanted to make a little something from two of my favourite cuisines, French and Japanese. Then add nuances of what I believed Malaysians enjoyed of late, for instance, truffle in everything!” Tan quips. “I love how kombu is a natural source of stock. It can boost the humble tastes of good butter without the need for artificial flavour enhancers.”

Tan dedicated herself to this idea, trying out online recipes and passing homemade samples to her friends. In August 2020, she launched her Butterbae.Co. on Instagram.

See also: Flavoured Butter And Where To Buy It In The Klang Valley

One year later, Butterbae.Co has expanded to a variety of butters, spreads and cakes. Everything is made with thick cut Hokkaido kelp, which is much sought after for its good texture. Today, Butterbae.co sells between 400 and 500 jars a month; once, they even reached 700 jars, Tan proudly proclaims. Her bestsellers are truffle butters, which include truffle kombu, truffle caviar, and a new truffle honey flavour.

“The popularity of truffle honey has caught me by surprise. Many were a little wary to try it at first, as they knew our truffle butters were quite robust. So imagine it with honey? But when they tried it, it was love,” she laughs.

Reflecting on her journey, the entrepreneur says there had been many challenges but hearing the positive feedback from customer has made everything worthwhile.

“It has not been easy but what we’ve learned and gained in experience are priceless. The quest to come up with attractive flavours that are not only creative but also enjoyed by our customers is definitely difficult,” says Tan who describes Butterbae.Co as an ‘almost one-woman show’.

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“I would say one of the most important things I’ve learnt is to be confident in our products but also to always keep our customers in mind. Like making sure the products are consistent, their shelf life is manageable, and that they reach our customers in the best condition possible. We’ve also learnt how to listen, and be thankful for constructive criticism.”

Starting a business in the wake of a pandemic came with risks. In hindsight, doing so actually benefited the company, as more people started purchasing homemade items online. Still, the lockdown posed challenges, chief of which is transportation. Tan recalls how border restrictions meant she once had to stop her monthly delivery from Penang to Kuala Lumpur.

“Looking for a suitable cold truck logistics partner was very tricky for a small home-based business like us. We were lucky to have found our current provider through a peer. Now, we are able to get our products to places like Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Johor Bahru. Though the costs can be quite hefty, we're trying our best to find ways to reduce them,” she says.

A key factor helping her business’s growth is social media.

“I must say, the majority of my customers knew us through Instagram. Word-of-mouth helps as well,” says Tan.

See also: The Top Home Bakers In The Klang Valley

Tan hopes to release more exciting flavours in the future. She's also looking to stock her butter in grocers and bakeries. They have already received some attention in East Malaysia and Singapore, and many brands and artisans are interested in collaborations.

While Butterbae.Co is currently enjoying success, Tan is well aware that the market for flavoured butter is getting more competitive.

"Competition is inevitable. But how we make our story one to remember, with consistent quality and exciting offerings, may be the best path towards longevity," she says.

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