(Kayson Quach, Photo Credit: Sora Jung)
“It feels very natural to connect through food and it’s something that bonds us across cultures”
This past week, we got the chance to sit down with our mentor Kayson Quach, and learn about some of the inspiration behind his business, Haisue Foods! From understanding business models to appreciating diversity, Kayson unravels the importance of appreciating authenticity when selling a product. And here we go!
Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed! I imagine you’re very busy so we really appreciate it and we’re excited to share your story!! Let’s dive in.
1. What was the inspiration behind Haisue Foods?
So basically I’m in the food industry. My family own an Asian groceries store, and then I wanted to do something a little different. In a broad sense, Haisue Foods is an online platform that allows Canadian consumers to purchase authentic Asian foodstuff. So it was essentially found on the principle that I wanted to transform the way consumers purchase these products. For example today, whether you’re in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, you’ll most likely end up going to your local traditional Asian grocery store, but Haisue Foods remodels that concept so it’s available online too.
2. How did you come to realize there may be a market for this business idea?
While I grew up with in an environment where I saw and dealt with food importers and home sellers, I found two flaws – Firstly, many importers and sellers kept telling me that the major problem in our industry is the inability to promote their brand as an authentic one due to the constant intervention of new brand competition, and this leaves the consumers with a paradox of choice. Imagine a scenario where you’re a well known brand for the past 10 years, but then a competitor sees this as an opportunity to promote their own product, and this inevitably leaves consumers confused, while creating a price war among everybody. Then the second problem I found was the lack of information for consumers when buying an Asian product. For example, the packaging may look nice, but consumers don’t know what the product is or how to use it. Haisue Foods was a result of solving these problems; a platform where I was able to help my food vendors, and at the same time, help Canadian consumers familiarize themselves with the product they’re buying.
3. Tell us the story behind naming your company ‘Haisue Foods’.
So this was inspired by a trip I had taken back in 2015 to Seoul, Korea. I was attending a food trade show where lots of companies around the world attend and promote their products. It’s an international event where we get to see a lot of fusion between local and foreign food. But in a sense I was travelling for exploratory reasons! I’m from a Chinese background and I wanted to learn a little more about Korean life, like understanding how the locals live and what they eat. I’m lucky enough to have friends in Seoul, and one of them took me to a really local area in the city, where every corner of each street was occupied by food stands that sell traditional meals and locally made beverages. As we walked around, I saw a young girl standing with her mum, and both of them were selling Korean pear juice. I bought a glass and realised it didn’t quite taste the same as the canned pear juice I had tried in Canada. I told the young girl it doesn’t taste as sweet as I’m used to, and she replied, “I know, mine has no sugar added, it’s the real thing!” I liked the fact that she wasn’t trying to sell the product based on taste (how sweet it is), but purely for its authenticity. Her name was Haisue! She inspired the name behind my business wanting to promote authentic and traditional Asian foodstuff.
4. Starting a business can be tough. What were some of the difficulties in starting yours?
I would say it’s actually starting it. The first step is always the hardest. We face a lot of uncertainty and there are no guarantees for success. For example in the beginning stages of implementing your business, you’re very well going to see that sometimes things don’t turn out the way you’d like and it casts uncertainty for you. You might start to doubt your business model, or whether the overall business will be a success in the long run. A plan on paper doesn’t always translate to something achievable or attainable in actuality. It’s important to remain open to change and remember why you started your business. Remember, nothing ventured nothing gained!
5. In terms of marketing, how easy or difficult was it to get word out about your business and platform? What channels did you use in order to help you market?
In my case, I’m still working on the platform and testing the waters. Product-market fit is definitely important, so when the time comes, I have a few communities I will reach out to whom I have a relationship with. What I’ve learned so far is that while we sell authentic Asian foodstuff, it’s not compelling enough as a reason for consumers to access our platform and buy those brands, especially since they’re already used to shopping at their local Asian grocery store. I’m toying around with another type of product to add value to our platform. So incentive and convenience for the consumer play a large part in making Haisue Foods as successful as can be.
6. You deal with a very specific and specialized type of cuisine for your business. How did you establish contacts to provide the types of products you have available at Haisue Foods?
I’m really lucky to have an entrepreneurial family. My dad started an Asian grocery store 15 years ago. We saw a lot of growth in the Montreal market, and today I’m fortunate enough to manage the business. Since graduating from my Masters Degree at Queens University (2014), I started working full time for the family business. I held the role of buyer, so I conducted business with vendors and cultivated good relationships with them. Steadily, I developed a network of contacts on the basis of mutual respect, trust and commitment. It’s definitely something that came naturally to me. I remember being really young, probably 5/6 years old, and following my dad around while he visited companies, conducting business with them. Fast forward 20 years later and I’m now in business with those same partners at the same company, looking to bring something new and significant to the food industry! So that one has been a long standing relationship.
7. You’ve dedicated so much time into making authentic Asian foodstuff accessible to everyone who wants it, tell us what your favourite dish/item is from your catalogue!
I don’t think there’s a specific dish or item I could call my favourite. With that said, I’m really intrigued by aloe vera infused into different products, especially due to the many health benefits that come with it. Its versatility also provides a venue for growth because it works in drinks, gels, and moisturisers. I have to do a little more market research but it seems like a great area to expand into.
8. You have a wonderful ‘stories’ section on your website which describes your journey to Asia. What is it about food that brings us all together and helps us appreciate diversity?
When we’re all eating together, it allows space for people to learn social norms and opens us up to communicate and appreciate not only our similarities, but differences too; the things that make us unique. I guess it feels very natural to connect through food and it’s something that bonds us across cultures. It really expanded my consciousness to travel across the world and experience other cuisines. Whether it’s Asian, Western, or Middle Eastern food – at the end of the day we realize that we’re all human and we’re really not that different. It’s always nice to be reminded of that through delicious eats.
9. If you had one piece of advice to give someone who was starting a business or developing a product, what would it be?
When it comes to running a business, I know we all want to move forward, but I think sometimes it’s best to take a step back. What I mean by this is to consider what you’re capable of achieving at a certain period in the development of your product. I always consider going at my own pace. At times, we see other people reaching their goals within specific timeframes and feel compelled to accomplish our goals in the same manner, but this may lead to our downfall. So timing and opportunity is key. Don’t compare yourself to others, and work towards your own goals with the belief that you know what’s best for your business.
Photo Credit: Alexandre Champagne
Inspired by what you learned about Haisue Foods? Us too! To check out some of the products available at Haisue Foods, go to www.haisuefoods.com and experience some of the foodstuffs available for yourself (alternatively, if you enjoy a good story, check out the ‘stories’ section of the website to learn more about Kayson’s travels!)
About the Author
Maryam Zaidi is a user experience/ digital strategist currently working in healthcare. As a graduate from the University of Toronto in the Master of Information Program, her interests lie at the intersection of human-computer interaction and empathetic design. In her spare time, she loves to read, run, and occasionally code!
You can find her on Twitter as @MaryZai