For Helene Raudaschl, Managing Director of Singapore’s Indoguna, food is a passion. It is her hobby as well as her business; combining this genuine enthusiasm with a savvy business sense, she has seen the company grow in variety whilst always maintaining impeccable standards that only other food-lovers would hold their products to. The company is dedicated to their products – a dedication that fellow gourmands can trust.
“We import, evaluate the product, and then we distribute and market it. We’re based in Singapore, and we don’t have any natural resources in this country,” explains Helene Raudaschl, Indoguna’s Managing Director. “Everything has to be imported.” With this sort of challenge before them, Indoguna had a stack of challenges ahead of them, but with them, a ripe market with a serious demand, and gap where that demand was not being filled. “When we started in 1993, our concentration and focus was in high quality meats – particularly chill and fresh. The marketplace at that time was all frozen and was very commodity driven. There was a need at that time for hotels and restaurants who wanted fresh, smaller quantity, high quality products.”
Rising to this need, Indoguna began importing fresh meats, soon gathering a loyal pipeline of restaurants, hotels and other kitchens that came to rely on their fresh, top standard imports. For the first five years, the company stuck purely to the meat business, but over their 25 years they have diversified into many categories, including seafood, dairy and bakery products. Now, they are a go-to for clients searching for that mark of originality and excellence in their menus. “Basically, we could supply 80% of a menu in most restaurants.” Whilst not as strong in canned goods and base vegetables, Indoguna provide all of the harder-to-source elements that make a meal distinctive. “In general, we aim to almost become a one-stop shop for most clients, and to also provide the center of the plate. So, the variety is very extensive We bring in products from around the world.”
What prompted this expansion from the company’s specialist operations in the meat market, to become the wide-reaching provider they are today? In part, it was their confidence in their abilities, and the ambition to secure themselves an ever-bigger position in the industry. However, it was also a gutsy and timely response to a period of crisis. “We ran into some problems with diseases during the European mad cow crisis, and suddenly the government shut down a lot of importation products.” With a portion of their imports barred, and anxiety spreading regarding red meat, Indoguna took a risk and expanded their line to stave off a loss of business. “It was seafood first. We identified seafood in chill, in frozen and in live format. Once again, we sourced those products from everywhere, supplying our clients who were buying our meat items, to explore with them the possibility of supplying them seafood.”
Diversifying was not without its challenges. Despite the need for meat alternatives in the market, convincing customers to explore a new product can take time, and the logistical sides of the product were occasionally more complex than meat – particularly the live seafood! “When we started the live seafood, we didn’t have a strong customer base for the product yet, and it’s highly perishable. Once we found a constant stream of customers, we were able to stabalise mortality, write-offs and that kind of thing.” It wasn’t a simple product to take on under any circumstances, but especially not when the company did not yet have an existing seafood pipeline. However, Helene feels the gamble is what set them apart, and set a president for Indoguna’s operations in the years to come. “I think one of the things that made us a success was that we dare to go into areas that are risky. At that time, most people in Singapore were gearing for frozen, because there’s less risk. It was the ‘90s, so live seafood was not very common in Singapore. We were probably the first ones to bring in live oysters, live muscles and those kinds of products.”
25 years into business, Indoguna’s pipelines are secure, with long-standing relationships and a reputation for excellence. However, given the nature of the stock they deal in, business is never without its complications. “In every category we started, there were always challenges – even today, we still have challenging moments. We’ve had weather changes, short supply; we’re dealing with natural things, so sometimes we don’t have catches, or a harvest might not be as good.” Despite these variables, it is essential that Indoguna deliver consistency to their clients. “In our business, quality has to be the first consideration of any product that we bring in. It’s highly competitive in the restaurants, and our customers need to know that the raw materials they’re getting have consistency, so they provide the same consistency to their own customers.”
This competition between restaurants naturally creates competition in Indoguna’s part of the market. “There’s no doubt about it. However, it’s a small market too, so we co-exist in a friendly manner.” Whilst competing companies are amicable, however, consumer trends can be unforgiving. “It’s a very sophisticated market, and it is getting increasingly difficult to stay fresh, so that customers don’t get bored with your product line. We constantly have to work double hard to find products and concepts that will excite the menus.”
This calls for non-stop innovation, and isn’t something Indoguna was going to leave to fate. Instead, they took matters into their own hands, investing in their own manufacturing facility from which they enhance their goods and develop a range of in-house brands. These include Carne Meats, their butcher range; Ocean Gems, their seafood range; and Masterpiece, their range of dim sum and ready to use products for meal preparation. “It is a lot of butchery products, value-added meat, poultry, seafood products, and we produce a whole range of chocolatery products, high-end sausages, air-dried items – I mean, we’re constantly continuing to innovate the product lines and what we are sourcing. What was doing well five years ago might not be doing well today because trends change.”
Despite the work in sourcing, quality checking and even putting their own unique stamp on their products, the behind-the-scenes nature of Indoguna’s work means their innovation and hard work can often go unnoticed. “More often than not in our business, we’re very much behind the scene. It’s the chefs that get the recognition, it’s the restaurants that get the recognition – the guys who deliver the things in the back door don’t really get recognized.” However, someone has clearly taken notice – earlier this year, Indoguna were awarded the Gourmet Distributor of the Year World Gourmet Summit Award of Excellence 2017. That mouthful is one of an impressive lineup of awards, including Helene being surprised by receiving the EY Entrepreneurs of the Year award 2016. “These awards show that we’re recognized as a serious business. In terms of motivation and moral, it’s a significant thing for our team.”
Around 65% of Indoguna’s business is in restaurants and hotels, but it doesn’t stop there. 12% of their business goes into supplying supermarkets, and the remaining 23% is split between airline caterers, clubs, traders, wholesalers and independent households. As well as this blend of commercial and domestic consumers, despite their belief that nothing but the best is good enough, the company successfully caters to a full range of budgets. “I wouldn’t say we operate only in the luxury market. We offer the best value for money in terms of products across all classes. So, for example, if we have a product for the economy class market, we pride ourselves on providing the best products for that economy class sector.”
The domestic household market is currently a small portion of Indoguna’s business, but as we have seen, the company are always pushing themselves and reaching out to the next frontier. Household market. Greengrocer is an online delivery for households, run by ourselves. Currently under development as part of a push to grow their household market. They access this customer base through Greengrocer.com.sg, an online order delivery service that the company owns and runs. In a bid to expand this side of the business, they are currently investing in developing this online service. “We’re expanding our lines and services, and developing our digital platform to make delivery much easier to the households. I think the first improvement will be logistics – how we can shorten the timeframe of delivery for customer experience. Currently, 95% of our logistics is from in-house, and then 5% of our requirements are sourced from outside.”
Pushing the home front is just one of Indoguna’s many development plans. They are currently looking at Just Meat, a store front butcher’s shop that the company owns in Hong Kong, with a view to turning the one-off store into a Hong Kong based chain. They are also turning their attention to potential customer groups that they have previously been unable to provide for. “The company is definitely planning on growing. For example, we’re looking at doing Halaal business. I can’t share too much, because it’s still on our drawing board, but we’re definitely looking to the Muslim market in Singapore, and into new facilities to cater to them.”
With Helene’s passion never faltering, the avenues ahead are sure to be just some of the innovations we can expect from Indoguna in the coming years. Unwilling to release their hold in a competitive market, they know that they must move ever forwards to keep up with the tide of trend and demand. With the whole world to import from and only their ingenuity as a limit, our mouths are watering at the possibilities.