For Ron Sim and Taha Bouqdib of the V3 Group, the pandemic and subsequent lull in business during the early lockdown days of 2020 would prove to be an opportune time to reassess the company’s priorities. The company owns TWG Tea and at that time, had just launched Bacha Coffee, a century-old Moroccan brand, in Singapore.
Bouqdib says, “As business owners, we took the opportunity to ask ourselves: ‘How can we turn this situation into a positive for the company and the business?’”
While many companies battened the hatches and tried to ride out the storm, Sim and Bouqdib went on the offensive, steering the ship with an eye on the horizon. The goal: Long-term growth for the company.
Explains Sim: “The way I see it, the 2020 pandemic had a couple of significant impacts. Firstly, it exposed the strengths and the weaknesses of developed countries, as well as emerging countries in terms of governance, compliance, and discipline.”
“So, Taha and I sat down and started to really dig deeper to analyze the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities that we can basically adapt, adjust, or apply. This eventually led to us setting up — during the pandemic — V3 Gourmet, an entity to create and hold global household names."
V3 Gourmet, which was officially launched in January 2022, became the V3 Group’s luxury gourmet F&B arm, which Sim and Bouqdib head as Chairman and CEO respectively. Already, the company has earmarked US$100 million into developing and managing gourmet lifestyle brands for the mass affluent market. Or, in Sim’s words, “to make luxury accessible to many”.
“We cannot afford to ignore today’s fast-growing mass affluent consumer base – in Southeast Asia alone, the mass affluent segment is growing faster than any other income segment in the region,” he reveals.
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“This segment comprises 60 percent of people who sit between the top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent in terms of household income. The majority of these consumers are young and savvy, salaried professionals or business owners, frequent travellers and heavy users of digital media.”
Sim adds: “It’s a lot of people! This group represents one of the largest growth opportunities globally for consumer brands.”
- LEARNING FROM THE PAST
- SERVING THE BEST
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
Of course, the ability of Sim and Bouqdib to confidently navigate the choppy waters of the retail sector stems from the wealth of experience already earned having launched TWG Tea during similarly uncertain times in 2008 mere months before the financial crisis hit, and throughout the brand’s dizzying expansion from its first salon at Republic Plaza over the next 14 years.
Today, TWG Tea is available in more than 70 locations around the world. It was this solid foundation and several pioneering moves, including the introduction of a mobile commerce experience with the TWG Tea app in 2013, that enabled the company to pivot comfortably during the pandemic.
“We cannot afford to ignore today’s fast-growing mass affluent consumer base – in Southeast Asia alone, the mass affluent segment is growing faster than any other income segment in the region."
“At that time, we wanted to keep ahead of the curve and connect with our customers where they were increasingly spending their time — on their smartphones. Since then, we have been extending the reach of our delivery network globally, while gradually improving our customers’ online and offline retail experiences at the same time. Today, the TWG Tea app has over 4 million users worldwide,” Bouqdib elaborates.
Boosting TWG Tea’s presence in the online retail space in the early years would turn out to be a particularly prescient move ahead of the pandemic. With its physical stores affected, TWG Tea could focus on expanding its online retail footprint instead.
By the end of 2020, it had launched 22 new official online stores in third party marketplaces like online travel retail platforms iShopChangi and KrisShop. It also doubled the size of its e-commerce team to support the growth.
“We saw a 98% increase in online retail in 2020, compared to the same 12-month time frame in 2019,” says Bouqdib.
For Bacha Coffee, the same focus on e-commerce will anchor its expansion plans following its website launch in June 2020. In addition to easy access to the brand’s complete selection of loose coffee beans and packaged coffees, Bouqdib says it also needs to offer “a taste of the in-person customer experience at Bacha Coffee Boutiques” and be “luxurious to receive”.
The bespoke hamper service offers this touch of extravagance, allowing customers to select a theme or hamper size and fill it with their choice of coffee, accessories, and gourmet products. Each of these comes gift-wrapped in Bacha Coffee’s opulent closed hamper boxes
But the luxury coffee brand, best known for its original location at the spectacular Dar el Bacha palace in Marrakesh that hosted dignitaries like US President Franklin Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is still best experienced in person – even if only to enjoy a takeaway Bacha Coffee, served indulgently with a side of chantilly cream and a stick of raw sugar candy.
To reinforce its positioning within the accessible luxury space, V3 Gourmet will find homes for Bacha Coffee boutiques in locations with a “strong luxury fashion retail presence” like ION Orchard, Marina Bay Sands, and more recently in Paris, at the Gallery of the Ritz Paris Hotel. Strengthening the brands’ presence in the e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retail spaces will continue to play a big role in V3 Gourmet’s future.
“Many of our TWG Tea and Bacha Coffee customers view these brands as part of their lifestyles. They like how easy it is to access our brands, whether in real life or online,” says Sim.
- LEARNING FROM THE PAST
- SERVING THE BEST
SERVING THE BEST
“Although Bacha Coffee and TWG Tea are vastly different brands, we were able to scale Bacha Coffee with greater speed because of the relationships we’ve built and strengthened over years with a multitude of partners."
With V3 Gourmet, Sim and Bouqdib have created a venture to not only consolidate resources, but also learnings for strategic expansion.
“Although Bacha Coffee and TWG Tea are vastly different brands, we were able to scale Bacha Coffee with greater speed because of the relationships we’ve built and strengthened over years with a multitude of partners – from landlords and suppliers, to customers – both on the B2B and B2C level,” says Bouqdib.
“Best practices in operations, from the kitchen, service, to eCommerce is also shared within the group. These lessons have helped us to create a proven system,” he adds.
“We are not just putting a company together – we are also putting a lot of experience together. It is because of this experience that it makes sense for the group to decide to move and grow rapidly, especially now.”
This means identifying traditional brands or sectors to invest in, reshaping them for relevance for the modern consumer, and eventually sustaining them for the long run. Specifics are scant for now, but Sim and Bouqdib have hinted at bringing in whiskey or speciality chocolate brands – or luxury experiences that mass affluent consumers see as “relevant to their lifestyles and within their reach”.
Ultimately though, the co-founders say that, as with Bacha Coffee and TWG Tea: “Each brand must be independent”.
“This means each brand will have its own management team, brand philosophy, unique selling propositions, and brand experience. What stays consistent is the spirit of serving the best to our customers.”
For more information on V3 Gourmet, click here