KUALA LUMPUR, April 13 — “Let us keep your cookie jar filled.”
That is the premise — and promise — of Kuukii, a small home-based cookie maker. Not just any cookies but 100 per cent handmade chocolate chip cookies using Callebaut Belgian chocolate and pure butter. Flavours include Sea Salt Original, Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, Almond and Earl Grey.
It’s refreshing to find a food and beverage (F&B) start-up that tries to do less rather than more, focusing not only on a single product, i.e. cookies, but also limiting it further to only the chocolate chip variety.
Forget every flavour under the sun, Kuukii knows chocolate chip cookies are all you want.
Kuukii is the brainchild of 38-year-old home baker Sherrie Yap, who exudes a calm and cheerful aura. That demeanour extends to her baked confections, which are dainty and divine.
Yap ventured into home baking in a roundabout fashion. After stints in both beauty and banking, disparate industries that taught her much about customer service and managing expectations, she got married and became a full-time housewife.
She says, “I was busy taking care of my two kids until August last year. That’s when I decided to run my own business because I wanted to have something of my own as a side income.”
The idea for what became Kuukii was sparked during the first movement control order (MCO) when Yap was sheltering at home with her family. As with many others, she spent more time on cooking and baking. Unlike most, however, she started getting very encouraging feedback.
Yap recalls, “I baked chocolate chip cookies for my family and friends. Everyone commented that my cookies were delicious. My BFF — my best friend — suggested I try selling the cookies, but I hesitated because I felt chocolate chip cookies are just normal snacks you can get everywhere.”
There were already famous, bigger brands in shopping malls, Yap reasoned, so starting such a business seemed pointless. Not only was there no first move advantage, the market is quite saturated with experienced players.
Or is it?
Yap says, “My BFF kept convincing me it doesn’t cost a lot to start. I’m looking for financial independence now that my kids are older, so I decided to give it a try. I feel so blessed to have my BFF cause she really supported me through this journey from giving me ideas on the name, helping me to take photos and promoting my brand.”
So what sets Kuukii apart from other homemade cookie purveyors? Nothing obvious, not immediately, but perhaps Yap’s no frou-frou recipe development process reveals why her cookies stand out for being simple and unassuming.
Acknowledging that she is not a professional baker, Yap’s approach is to research recipes by searching on Google, then following the steps to the letter. In baking, there is no messing about until one has mastered the basics.
She shares, “The initial outcome was good but I wanted to fine tune to suit our Malaysian taste buds. I notice Malaysians still prefer traditional and classic cookie texture which is crunchy rather than chewy. From there, I kept experimenting and improving my own recipes by trial and error.”
All of Yap’s cookies are handmade using simple but high quality ingredients such as Belgian dark chocolate chips (at least 70 per cent cocoa as her customers requested cookies that were less sweet) and imported sea salt flakes.
She enthuses, “The taste of the dark cocoa is so rich and from the first bite, you know you are eating 100 per cent pure chocolate. For the Earl Grey flavour, I tried many brands before I settled on this higher quality one which brings out the fragrance of the tea the most.”
This pursuit of the best has resulted in the latest Kuukii flavour – Dark Chocolate Orange – which Yap came up with after several iterations. The idea is always to have a small range of chocolate chip cookies and do each version well, rather than try to have as many flavours as possible.
Few and fantastic are better than many but mediocre.
As with many small F&B businesses that were launched during MCO, Kuukii is home-based and maintains an online presence for sales and marketing.
Yap explains, “Kuukii is entirely handled by me alone — a one-woman show from preparation, baking, fielding inquiries from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, packing and delivery (using both delivery apps for customers in Klang Valley and courier service for outstation ones).”
That can be limiting in terms of time and resources but also freeing as Yap is her own boss, as it were, and can make dynamic decisions that other more established businesses agonise over. For instance, participating in Pingmin Market’s bazaar last October didn’t require much deliberation; she would just try and see how the response was.
To put it mildly, Yap was pleasantly bowled over by how that went: “As that’s my first time joining a bazaar, I only baked 150 cookies for those two days. On the first day, I sold more than half! So I quickly rushed back home and prepared the cookie dough for next day.”
The vagaries of running a small business during a global pandemic, particularly a new one with less than a year of operations under her belt, means that Yap actively looks for ways to minimise her expenses.
She says, “I always do research online for cheaper deals. I also source for ideas to promote my cookies as well as packaging ideas for every special occasion such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. The first thing people will look at is the packaging before they buy.”
During off-peak or non-festive periods, such as the recent spell right after Chinese New Year and before Hari Raya, Yap tries to think of more promotions. She has found collaborations with other home-based sellers to be one effective strategy.
One such collaboration was with Zi You Shi² and Liangren Pastry. Yap shares: “The most recent was the ‘3.8 International Women’s Day Gift Set’ with another two sellers who make kombucha and cakes respectively. Surprisingly the response was good although Chinese New Year was just over.”
This was a crucial lesson for the first time home baker and entrepreneur – not to depend only on festive seasons to make money; she has to be profitable every cycle and create customer demand where none existed before. She has had to make her own opportunities.
Looking forward, Yap realises that to expand, she has to scale up. She explains, “Slowly my business has grown from word of mouth and my orders have increased tremendously. It’s time to invest in better and bigger ovens to cope with my orders.”
Accordingly, Yap has gone from one small oven in the beginning to three ovens now. During peak periods, she would hire a part timer to help out to keep up with the sharp increase in orders.
She recalls, “During such times, I really bake from morning till late night. Literally like a baking marathon — non-stop! It’s so tiring but yet I get the satisfaction when I receive messages from customers saying they enjoyed my cookies.”
Yap’s long-term plans include expanding her business by supplying her cookies to restaurants and cafés, but for now she is taking stock before the next festive rush: “I will keep pushing and improving myself to create more cookie flavours. For I’m blessed to have many friends helping and supporting me throughout this Kuukii journey.”
To order, WhatsApp 014-217 8311