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Xiao Ban cafe tasting sweet success overseas

The migration of the Singapore hawker snack all the way to Vietnam is no coincidence. Xiao Ban is the brainchild of Singapore company Tai Sei Hei, which produces soya beancurd under the brand Lao Ban. Enjoying the sweet taste of success when a strategic move into the overseas market paid off.

As Tai Sei Hei director Max Yeow explained, the firm predicted the Singapore market would stagnate in the future, and so thought it essential to diversify its revenue stream by entering different countries.

Tai Sei Hei's growth is driven by their forward-looking attitude. The company began in 2007 as Lao Ban, a small stall at Old Airport Road Food Centre. Boasting a special recipe that gave its soya beancurd a smoother, more pudding-like texture, the stall grew rapidly in popularity. In just five years, it had expanded to 21 outlets across the island.

The management's desire for continued growth inspired it to experiment with different business models. In 2011, noting that the cafe trend in Singapore was picking up, Tai Sei Hei opened Xiao Ban, a cafe offering drinks, waffles and gelato.

However, noting that manpower restrictions and rental prices in Singapore were rising, Mr Yeow grew concerned about the future here. In 2013, he began dabbling with the idea of venturing into regional markets. "It is important to plan ahead. When the domestic market is stable, that's when it's time to look overseas - not wait until you're in a position where you have no choice."


Learning about the cafe culture in Vietnam piqued his interest in the country as a suitable place for Xiao Ban to take off. He was even more encouraged when he found out that the market for coffee was growing rapidly. By adding soya bean milk to coffee, Xiao Ban would have a unique selling point.

As Mr Yeow was unfamiliar with Vietnamese culture, he faced challenges deciding on a location for the cafe. He also struggled with different labour and import laws in the country.

With the help of IE Singapore, the agency has connected Xiao Ban with legal experts and resources to aid in its decision-making.

Mr Yeow is grateful that, because of the IE Singapore, what could have been a risky move has paid off for Xiao Ban. Since opening at Ho Chi Minh's SC VivoCity in November 2015, the firm has seen a 10 per cent monthly growth in revenue and is looking to open two more outlets in the city. In fact, the "problem" now is that the popular dishes are selling out too fast.

Looking back at the journey that Xiao Ban has taken, Mr Yeow said: "Without IE Singapore, we would not have been able to do this so fast. It would have taken us much longer to figure out how to set up overseas and the learning curve would have been steeper.

As featured in The Straits Times published on MAY 4, 2016, 5:00 AM SGT

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