THE Bunsuwan family's traditional Thai desserts have been a fixture for their sweet-toothed customers in Hat Yai district for decades.
Bulapond Bunsuwan, 57, is the third generation of the family to run the business and is keen to expand the market for the dessert line to other provinces this year. In doing so, she is aiming to double the family company's rate of sales growth next year.
“I have committed an investment budget of Bt5 million to build my new plant to a level that meets the requirements of the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification and Halal standards,” Bulapond said in an interview with The Nation recently.
“The plant will also incorporate a freezing process that will extend the shelf life of the desserts from two days to six months. This capability will help me to expand the market beyond Hat Yai, Songkhla, to other provinces in Thailand.”
Bulapond said she began spending the investment funds last year and the new production facility will be completed and ready to operate in the last quarter of this year.
Bulapond said that, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in management, she went straight into lecturing at a college. But when the family business began to face difficulties, she had to leave behind her academic career and help them out.
“The family had been in the business of making Thai desserts since my grandmother had started out doing this and this was continued by my mother. Along the way, they had moved from operating in a small shop to opening a restaurant in Hat Yai, Bulapond said.
“Then I resigned from my job as a lecturer to help my family with the restaurant. Around that time I gave more thought to the desserts that we served. In particular, I decided to make some popular desserts such as Khao Tom Mud, which is made from sticky rice, coconut, and some fruits such as banana, along with taro, black bean and other ingredients.”
Bulapond threw herself into making Khao Tom Mud offered at her mother’s restaurant, which is managed by her younger daughter. The desserts are also distributed at outlets such as Cafe Amazon and Doi Kham, known for its health food range, in Hat Yai district.
From an investment budget of Bt5,000 in 2009, the dessert operation began generating sales at an average of Bt6,000 a day and has now reached Bt1 million a month, or Bt12 million a year.
Bulapond said that she began with Khao Tom Mud and added other well-known Thai desserts such as Maphao Kaew, made from sweet dried coconut, as well as rice snacks and other items.
As well as the brisk sales from locals, the desserts have become popular as souvenir items bought by visitors to Hat Yai district. Bulapond has also opened a shop at Hat Yai International Airport as part of her efforts to expand sales.
However, a constraint on sales is that the dessert items have a limited shelf life; for the Khao Tom Mud, this is only two days. And this dessert makes up 70 per cent of the annual sales.
The need to overcome this problem prompted to her take on the Bt5 million investment to build the new plant. Key to this was cooperation with the Prince of Songkla University for research into the development of a machine that will enable a freezing process for the Khao Tom Mud. The resulting six-month shelf life for the popular dessert will open up new sales opportunities beyond the local district and into other provinces.
Part of the investment funds came from Bulapond’s savings in addition to a loan from the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Bank, guaranteed by the Thai Credit Guarantee Corporation.
“Our plant will completed this year and that will double our sales, and we may need to increase staff numbers to handle to the business expansion, as most of our production process is still carried out by hand,” Bulapond said.
In identifying the key to her success, Bulapond said that while Khao Tom Mud is considered a national Thai dessert, it is her use of quality local products that makes her brand stand out. The addition of more flavours - such as banana, beans, chicken, durian and various cereals – creates differentiation in the market, she said.