The production of off-season mooncakes was not in Mrs. Ngy Sovannthida’s business model when she founded Svay Angkor Enterprise in Siem Reap. It’s unlikely any business plan accounted for a global pandemic that would halt the bulk of international travel - and devastate many companies centered on tourism.
Mrs. Ngy originally designed Svay Angkor Enterprise to fill a market niche in tourist demands for souvenirs or gifts to take home from their visit to Cambodia.
“I was thinking about what we could make for them to take home,” said Mrs. Ngy. “I knew they liked our fruit – but fresh fruit was not possible. Then I thought to dry fruit like our mango and coconut.”
It was a fertile market; in 2019 alone, Siem Reap, with its nearby Angkor Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage site, received over 2.6 million international visitors.
Many of them bought Svay Angkor’s dried fruit. The company expanded its product base to include easily portable cookies made of local mango, cashews, coconut, and pumpkin. The tourists bought those, too, either at a local market or from a shop set up inside Siem Reap’s International Airport.
Mrs. Ngy’s staff grew from two to 14.
The pandemic hits
Then, in March 2020, international travel came to an abrupt halt, shocking global systems and forcing tourist-reliant businesses to take stock of their new environments.
Mrs. Ngy moved quickly to assess her company’s situation. The airport shop was, of course, closed. Svay Angkor Enterprise did still have products on the shelves in some markets frequented by foreigners but suffered a loss when owners could not pay for them. They, too, were financially devastated by the overnight transformation of Siem Reap from a crowded tourist destination to a shuttered town.
Her assessment of the situation led Mrs. Ngy to believe there was a local consumer market for her products. She would re-focus and cater to that different, smaller market and continue to make cookies and dried fruit.
She also began to make “off-season” mooncakes.
Most people equate mooncakes with the traditions of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. They are considered a special delicacy and are widely offered among family and friends during this festival of lunar appreciation. They are heavy and sweet and labor-intensive. They can take up to two days to prepare, so most people purchase rather than make them at home.
Mrs. Ngy decided to take a small risk and make the popular cakes “off-season”. She was rewarded with sustained consumer demand for them – regardless of the time of year.
“Cambodians like their cakes,” she said.
Still, Svay Angkor’s customer base was much smaller than before the pandemic, and the company decided to expand its marketing. Mrs. Ngy established a presence on social media and developed a Telegram group to whom she sends daily notices of what she has for sale, sometimes as many as 20 different products. They are easily ordered and shipped to any province in the country. Customers in Siem Reap can arrange to collect orders at a local shop.
As she continued to find ways to reach new customers, Mrs. Ngy had to address another issue inhibiting her company’s growth: physical space.
Her current facility in Siem Reap city is too small to produce bulk dried fruit and baked goods simultaneously. She has to rotate production, constraining her ability to meet consumer demand consistently.
Growing the business
To overcome this obstacle, Mrs. Ngy has obtained land in nearby Banteay Srei. In that location, she will have a small factory dedicated to drying the fruit – and her current facility can be turned into a full-time bakery for the cakes and cookies. She is researching potential investors and having discussions with bankers in an effort to fund her expansion more quickly.
While making the strategic moves to keep her enterprise healthy, Mrs. Ngy used the relative lull in the consumer market to improve her business planning and marketing skills.
She took advantage of different educational opportunities offered by both the Australian government and GIZ, the German development agency, to improve her production processes, plan for future expansion, and find ways to keep team members employed, at least part-time.
She participated in business matching facilitated by GIZ, and, post-pandemic, in an ICONE-sponsored delegation to Mongolia to research future trade potential. She has been in seminars and training with the Cambodian Women’s Entrepreneurs Association (CWEA).
She wants to obtain the certification necessary to export her products and has a plan to meet that goal. In the meantime, she will continue to supply a chain of supermarkets, local sellers, and her online customers. And, of course, the tourists as they begin to return to Siem Reap.