No pun intended! How to adapt a brand to sell in Thailand29th Feb '16
Yoomoo built its name in Britain with frozen yoghurt and humour. So what happens when that’s lost in translation? Iain Aitch finds out
Company: Yoomoo Trading in: Thailand Sector: Food and drink
“We take a steer on local marketing. We don’t drop a cookie-cutter model into each country”
Frozen yoghurt brand Yoomoo built its success on a very British sense of humour. Its blog, for instance, is punningly named Herd It On The Grapevine. Other cow-related jokes can be seen on its site and social moo-dia.
Amanda and Daniel Gestetner founded the company after falling in love with frozen yoghurt on a 2009 trip to Los Angeles. Yoomoo has grown from a 2010 yoghurt bar in London’s Harrods department store to a global player. It now has managed and franchised stores, as well as a line of freezer products.
The Gestetners sold the brand to R&R Ice Cream in 2013, leaving the company last year.
Yoomoo’s branding – alongside a commitment to using UK dairy herds and keeping products free from additives or preservatives – has marked it out as a luxury brand.
This has led to plenty of interest in China and South-East Asian nations, including a 2013 China trade trip alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron. But it is in Thailand where Yoomoo has found most favour, with its first franchisee signing up three years ago and expanding to a second store last year.
“They opened the first shop in Siam Paragon mall, which is the number one high-end shopping mall in Bangkok,” says Yoomoo managing director Peter Dowding. “Last March, they opened a second store in Bangkok’s EmQuartier luxury mall. There are 10 staff between the two stores and the franchisee, Pattrinee Anuwongnukroh, is looking at rolling out a few more this year.
“The turnover is around £500,000 at the moment and we’ve agreed to look at where she can take the opportunity to do pop-up stores. If they do well then we’ll look at putting in a full-blown shop.”
Yoomoo’s quality British produce may have been a draw for many potential franchisees looking for a premium brand. But Mr Dowding believes that heavy import taxes and tariffs have put off many once-keen investors.
“If you bring in a product that can be made in Thailand, they tax you very heavily,” he says. “You get taxed about three or four times before it gets out the port – and that can make the product quite expensive. So it is a difficult one.
“We did start talking to a chap in South Korea who came up against the same problems. The import taxes on anything we were going to ship in meant he was asking us to bring the price down and that we would have to sell under cost. That stopped us going into South Korea.”
Mr Dowding is not, however, letting such setbacks put him off eyeing future expansion for Yoomoo in South-East Asia. He enjoys the cultural challenges thrown up by the brand’s Thai franchise and likes to get involved where other executives would stay a few time zones away.
“I did go over there and talk to a mall about the brand image we approved for the store design, which they tried to completely change to something that wasn’t us,” he says. “So we had to work out a happy compromise”
While resisting changes to brand image as it is exported, Yoomoo is open to allowing for changing palates across cultures, as it has done in Thailand. To the brand’s surprise, the most popular chocolate flavours hardly sold at all there, with sales being far outstripped by mango or passion fruit.
They also had to drop some of the British cow-themed marketing messages and puns. It was hard to translate ‘famooly’ or ‘moov’ efficiently, with one such phrase coming back as derogatory when translated into Thai.
“We do take a steer on local marketing,” says Mr Dowding. “That is negotiated with the local franchises, because they’re the experts in their own area. We don’t drop a cookie cutter model into each country.
“The Siam Paragon store now has a special dish using local fruit toppings that we would never consider using in the UK, because they just wouldn’t work. That’s absolutely fine because it’s unique to Thailand. It’s theirs.”
Yoomoo is still seeking new partners in the region, although it now has a preference to link with companies rather than individual franchisees, due to the former’s capacity for rapid expansion.
Yoomoo believes there is plenty of potential, even if it means ditching chocolate in favour of coconut or green-tea flavour. They’re on the moo-ve.