Sweden is known also for other things than the Swedish Chef in the Muppet Show. Its car brands for instance. And the most sold car in Sweden, at least according to the brand’s tagline, is the one that is eaten.
Thais might look on in wonder if seeing a Swede munching on a bag of these car sweeties, grown up with sweet and sour things as they are here. And if wanting to taste they had better hurry, because for a Swede this candy is irresistible. So much that some of them living in Thailand started importing these ‘Bilar’ as well as some other classics, like cheese snacks and potato chips made in Sweden, not to mention salty candy.
It’s in the name – Scansnax. General Manager Peter Johansson and his business colleague on Phuket are behind this import agency for snacks and candy from Scandinavia, delivering to the Asian market.
When staying longer periods in Asia, or living here full-time the yearning for these candy brands and snacks that are not readily available grows, the Scansnax businessmen thought. And of course Scandinavians on holiday to Thailand would probably not mind being able to buy these that are musts at any party back home.
“We sell on the recognition factor, childhood memories. That’s why we are selling these products in particular. We could import cheaper candy from Sweden that we hardly would recognize ourselves – but instead we go for the classics,” says managing director Peter Johansson.
“We were ourselves keen on getting it, salty candy for instance where do you find that? And cheese snacks! Imagine having that when you are here a longer period. Every time somebody is coming here you ask them to bring this and that snacks and candy.”
60,000 bags in a year
Peter moved with his Thai wife and children from Sweden to Phuket a few years ago (their main reason being for the children to attend an international school, learn the Thai language and grow up as more urbane persons).
Thus the partners started looking into setting up an import business to bring these products also to potential consumers over here.
Now it has grown in proportions to selling to retailers all over Thailand as well as catering to the whole of Southeast Asia and beyond via their own web shop.
During a high season, if it turns out to be normal, they expect to sell at least 60,000 bags of cheese snacks, potato chips and other candies.
After some trials and errors they have discovered a niche in selling to local shop owners, normally mini-marts near hotels. They are also, successfully, selling at airports and large hotels with a Scandinavian connection.
“We sold only on a small scale in Phuket in 2007 and 2008. Then in 2009 we started widening the scope when we acquired licenses from Malaco and OLW, and began importing ourselves and could thus gain more profit and control.”
“Then we started expanding, involving wholesalers around Thailand and tried to reach out to all tourist spots – and that has worked very well,” continues Peter.
Selling to up-country
Most of those retailers/agents so far are Swedes in various resort areas and second-home-abroad enclaves, doing it as a side income apart from their core business, which can be a diving shop, restaurant etc.
“We aim at selling mostly with this set-up, with Phuket our home turf and strongest market. Agents outside Phuket have minimum orders and we send by cargo. Selling on the internet is our most recent service. We opened our web shop hoping to reach out also to people in remote, rural areas who might be keen on these snacks and candy classics. We’re hoping that this could spread.”
This means that a product manufactured in for instance Filipstad Sweden is first transported by road to Gothenburg, then shipped via Singapore and on to Bangkok. From there the journey continues overland to Phuket. And finally someone might place an order for cheese snacks up in Northern Thailand and thus the delivery embarks on a final journey to the deliver address.
Logistically this requires careful planning since the life-span of products such as cheese snacks and potato chips are only six months, and from when the shipping starts it can take, incorporating frequently occurring delays, up to two months before the cargo arrives to the resort island.
As for expansion plans they have considered many aspects and all kinds of specific products to enter the Thai market with.
“But the products from Sweden with custom fees and all other costs end up too expensive for Thais. They are not willing to spend that much on the snacks ‘Bilar’ for example.”
The retail price for a bag of ‘Bilar’ varies between 130 and 170 baht.
“If doing something for the Thai market you should produce it here. The idea is there; to get away from the dependence on tourists as the only market and having a product attractive enough also for Thais. That would be ideal. Higher quantities could of course also reduce our prices. But there is no plan ready, but hopefully we can do something like this in the future.”