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Losing his job was the push this 25 Y/O M'sian needed to start a kacang putih snack brand

At 21 years old, Leeson had gotten his first job in a multinational key opinion leader (KOL) marketing agency.

Here, the fresh graduate gained a wealth of experience, taking on various business management tasks. With a degree in international business, this was a great fit for Leeson.

Sadly, that didn’t last forever.

“In July 2022, fate played its hand, and the Kuala Lumpur branch where I worked had to close its doors due to regional challenges,” he shared with Vulcan Post.

But instead of seeing it as a setback, Leeson took it as a chance to embark on a new adventure.

“I already had a spark of an idea in my mind, and I knew I couldn’t let it go to waste. So, with unshakable determination, I set out to build something extraordinary,” he expressed.

“From the ashes of one venture, another emerged.”

Cracking on with a nutty idea

In November 2022, Leeson launched his new brand by the name of KACANG + CO under Cotebas Group, a content-centric agency whereby Leeson is a co-founder and COO.

A “venture incubated under the Cotebas Group’s umbrella”, KACANG + CO is not just a subsidiary, but a prominent part of the group’s core businesses.

“While I do serve roles in both the Cotebas Group and KACANG + CO, these commitments do not clash; rather, they harmoniously intertwine,” Leeson shared. “The balance between the two isn’t so much a challenge, as it is an exciting entrepreneurial journey.”

While Leeson’s involvement in Cotebas Group seems like a natural progression of his career, KACANG + CO does seem to be quite a departure from his international business background. Why sell nuts, of all things?

“I couldn’t help but notice that the cultural treasure and heritage of kacang putih was not getting as much love and recognition that it truly deserved, both among our fellow Malaysians and international tourists alike,” he reasoned.

Upon that realisation, Leeson decided to go on a mission to turn kacang putih into “an absolute Malaysian icon” as well as a “symbol of pride and nostalgia for generations to come”.

Cashing in on kacang

A popular snack in Malaysia, kacang putih (which literally translates to white nuts) is made with chickpeas and has a rich history that dates back to the 1940s.

Usually sold with other Indian snacks, it was brought to Malaya back then by British immigrants from Tamil Nadu.

Not many people who enjoy the snack may actually know of its origins, though. This explains why Leeson saw an opportunity there to highlight the snack. The KACANG + CO website even has a page dedicated to explaining kacang putih’s history.

As noble as his mission is, there needs to be a market for it to work. Understanding this, Leeson said that the team had conducted market analyses before launching the brand.

Through their research, they found that there was an audience for “premium and exquisitely packaged local snacks”.

“With our research, the market has predicted a 5% growth (RM165 million) between 2022 and 2027 in the Malaysian market for other savoury snacks,” the founder claimed.

Armed with these insights, KACANG + CO set off with a goal to celebrate Malaysian culture, one nutty snack at a time.

Leveraging local pride

Currently, KACANG + CO offers five flavour options: Kacang Soya Curry, Kacang Tanah Curry Mixture, Pakoda, and Star Murruku. All snacks are vegetarian and locally produced by a home-based maker.

“The Indian-inspired flavours stem from my family’s love for Malay and Indian cuisines, reflecting the diversity of Malaysian food culture,” Leeson said.

Marketing the brand and its products as one that promotes traditional snacks and Malaysian heritage, one eye-catching thing about the brand is its unique batik-inspired packaging.

“This unique design choice serves as a touch of identity and is a beautiful reminder of the nation’s vibrant culture and heritage,” he said.

Combining premium packaging and a well-loved local snack, KACANG + CO can be seen as a good gift option for tourists, friends, or maybe even corporate partners.

However, it’s not that these snacks have never existed before. Exquisitely packaged snacks aside, there needs to be something beyond the packaging that makes KACANG + CO the go-to brand for these kacang-based snacks.

“We were fortunate to meet a friendly homemade supplier who keeps their traditional family recipe and it tastes really good,” he said.

“There is an abundance of traditional snack sellers in Malaysia, even on the roadside down the street,” he agreed. “However, many are factory produced and there are preservatives, altered recipes to prolong the shelf life.”

Overcoming the learning curve

With the business not even a year old yet, the main focus of KACANG + CO currently is to gain exposure throughout Malaysia, improve their product range, and make their products easily accessible.

All this will help the team achieve the mission of “reintroducing” traditional snacks to the younger generation of Malaysians while creating a sought-after souvenir for tourists.

“We want to create something that will make Malaysians proud to gift to their friends, which is also why we’re coming up with innovative ways to present our products. Pretty on the outside, and yummy on the inside,” Leeson elaborated.

With no experience in the food or retail industry, Leeson and his team faced a steep learning curve where they had to learn everything from scratch.

“We overcame these challenges, the old-fashioned way—experience,” the founder said.

“We’ve got the passion, the talent, and the determination to make waves in this business landscape. It’s going to be a wild ride, as we know nothing good comes easy.”

Learn more about KACANG + CO here.Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Also Read3 M’sian founders share their biggest business mistakes that made them better entrepreneurs

Featured Image Credit: KACANG + CO

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