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Crunchy entrepreneurs nibble on the export market

Crunchy entrepreneurs nibble on the export market

crunchy.jpg
crunchy.jpg

Tracey Shelton

Home grown chocolate chip cookies, among others, are now available for local consumption and soon for export.

Business 101 quiz: What product would you export from Cambodia if you were starting

a business?

Beautiful silk? Fish paste?

Think again. A lot !

Gourmet cookies.

That is the brainchild of four business university students who in July opened a

new company with plans to begin selling Cambodian motif butter cookies first in duty

free shops, and then abroad next year.

Business is "good" so far, said Darith Saing, a finance major and one of

the four students attending Singapore Management University who came up with the

idea.

"The palm sugar squares with cashew nuts -our regulars are coming back for these.

We're selling 30 or 40 a day," said Eugene Yeo, another of the partners.

Prices in the chic glass and wood decorated shop called Camory - The Premium Cookie

Boutique at 167 Sisowath Quay are aimed at gift buyers and tourists or the well heeled

and the best sellers are biscotti and bite size chocolate chip cookies at 3 for $1.

They sell shortbreads and a variety of butter cookies in different designs - you

could order Angkor Wat cookies for example. They are offering a variety of moon cake

cookies for the Moon Cake Festival later this month.

Since opening Camory the cooks who work in the new kitchen upstairs have been shelling

pistachios, measuring the butter, eggs and flour and baking several hundred cookies

a day. At present the buyers are mostly drop in shoppers at the retail store and

a few big customers like the Singapore Embassy, which has been loyally ordering in

quantity to give as gifts, according to the student managers.

Yeo and Saing said they searched long and hard for business ideas during the past

year. They were focused on how to create a unique Cambodian "branded product."

They wanted something exportable to show off to the world that Cambodians can produce

good quality, they said, and in addition they wanted a company that they could make

self sustaining so that it would be able to more and employ more Cambodians as it

grows.

With help from their professors, the group found two international businessmen from

Holland working in Singapore who were intrigued enough to back them. One is in shipping;

the other in banking. Startup costs involved renting the shop on the riverfront,

buying kitchen equipment and hiring six staff.

"They want to use their money for social causes and they decided to invest.

It's like an interest free loan," said Saing.

Extensive marketing is a high priority. Part of the appeal lies in the gift containers,

wrapping and ribbons. Yeo said they will begin marketing to tourists in souvenir

shops in Siem Reap this fall. He said they have an agreement to place the products

in the duty free area of the airports.

"We are looking to export in June or July next year," said Yeo. Their sights

are set on The Netherlands and Singapore.

"We want a business that is able to sustain itself, create profits and create

more jobs," said Yeo. "Ultimately, we want a social enterprise," he

said.

In preparation for export, they are complying with international health standards

and have to be certified by the Industry and Commerce Ministries. In the kitchen,

furnished with new commercial ovens and refrigeration, everyone slips on special

shoes for cleanliness. The retail shop on street level has sparkling glass cases

and a handful of small tables for shoppers.

The Cambodian partners - Saing along with Tha Sothun and Veth Sokly - are attending

SMU on scholarships. They said they feel strongly enough about improving opportunities

for fellow Cambodians that they are pledging a percentage of profits to education

for disadvantaged Cambodians.

When will that be? The plan calls for a profit in six months, said Yeo. Although

foreigners like cookies, selling expensive cookies in the local market is a challenge.

"Sometimes I have to explain what is a cookie," said Saing.

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