Julie’s cookies were a big part of my school days. I always had a small pack of their peanut butter sandwiches in my bag just in case I needed to grab a bite during class.
Now the sugar crackers are my companion for my morning coffee or as a snack break at work.
Recently, Julie’s underwent a RM 3 million global overhaul to capture the hearts of a younger target market.
This isn’t the first time Julie’s has been renamed. She started her life as Perfect Food Industries (PFI) 35 years ago.
She was born in Melaka
Julie was born in Alor Gajah, Melaka. The sole proprietor founded by Su Chin Hock opened his first Perfect Food factory in 1981 with only 200 employees.
Originally an accountant, Su has always been a visionary. He also worked in the construction industry before setting up shop with a biscuit baking research and development team.
When Su baked the first few cookies, he knew he was going to bring PFI to the world market.
But nobody would remember his name. The domestic market was also full of long-name Chinese biscuit brands. He needed something that was easier to remember.
“So he made up Julie out of nowhere. It was easy to remember and a common name, ”said director Martin Ang in an interview with The Star. And so the brand was officially founded as Julie’s in 1985.
Higher costs for better quality
Since its inception, quality and grit have been prioritized across the brand. For example, the cream jammed in each peanut butter sandwich is from a US brand that is more expensive than those used by competitors.
Su even refused to use artificial coloring in Julie’s strawberry love letters after becoming aware of the side effects that made children hyperactive, even if it did reduce production costs.
However, using more expensive ingredients also meant selling them at higher prices. Traders were doubtful.
The biscuits were sold at RM5, a steep price compared to the average RM2.50-RM3.50 from other sellers in the mid-1980s.
Despite the higher prices, customers still bought the individually hand-lubricated peanut butter cookies and less lively looking strawberry waffle sticks.
This gave Su the confidence to only use the best ingredients that he would eat himself.
Since then, Julie’s has still used the same ingredients from 1985 with no plans to use cheaper or inferior substitutes.
Note that the strawberry cream is white instead of bright red / Image Credit: Julie’s Cookies
In 2015, Martin estimated that Julie’s had a 16% share of the local biscuit market, where 25% of their sales came from their bestsellers, the Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Love Letters.
The brand’s commitment to quality has put them on the radar when they operate globally.
In 2014, Hershey was looking for a business partner in Asia. This was their first collaboration outside of the US and Julie’s was selected to work with.
Julie’s, Meet Hershey’s / Image Credit: Julie’s Biscuits
The Americans were impressed with Julie’s small factory, coupled with the establishment of their products overseas.
“That not only led to our quality and taste, but also to this collaboration,” added Martin in an interview with The Borneo Post.
This led the two to launch six varieties of Julies Hershey’s biscuits, which were sold in all 10 ASEAN countries as well as Taiwan and Mongolia.
Never sell them half-baked
Julie’s took pride in its quality and didn’t let other manufacturers put it under pressure to sell half-baked cookies.
As a result, the brand would only release 2-3 Storage Units (SKUs) per year to ensure they have been adequately developed and refined for at least 2 years before being put on the shelves.
These products are even tasted by Su himself and will not come onto the market without his consent.
While other biscuit makers brought more products to market, Julie’s was not tempted to expand their range too quickly.
To this day, the little blonde girl with the pigtails sits on the shelves in over 18,000 branches in Malaysia and has made a name for herself in 80 countries.
But it did not come without dark times.
In October 2008, Julie’s suffered its greatest crisis when it was discovered that biscuits were contaminated with melamine-containing ammonium bicarbonate from three factories in China.
Ammonium bicarbonate is a leavening agent used in baked goods, and contamination has stalled Julie’s sales for the next 2-3 years.
Inventory has been recalled and destroyed while orders have been withdrawn both locally and internationally.
Julie’s reputation suffered as a result. Customers have lost confidence in the products. This led to a loss of around 14 million RM due to the disaster.
Julie’s Production Line / Photo Credit: Julie’s Cookies
However, with the help of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade) and the Ministry of Health, they were able to recover from the incident.
However, the brand needed to regain the trust of retailers and customers. In 2010-2012 they opened their doors and invited international and local dealers and retailers to visit their factories in Melaka to witness the manufacturing process.
And their efforts worked. The sellers were surprised by the cleanliness and the strict quality checks in the production process.
Julie’s achieved sales of RM280 million in 2014 and was on track to reach the target of RM500 million this year.
Things are looking up
Julie’s new rebranding has given the team a monumental task.
Due to their many SKUs, stakeholders and international markets, the process of converting all assets will be rigorous.
Similar to the approach to the quality of their products, the renaming of the corporate identity took about 1.5 years since mid-2018.
The designs even went through consumer focus groups to see if they would resonate with their target audience.
“It was a very big process, we weren’t rushing it because we wanted to make sure it works for everyone,” Sai told Marketing Interactive.
The rebranding will initially be introduced in Malaysia and Singapore and will be introduced in the export markets at the beginning of next year.
- You can find out more about Julie’s Biscuits here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured image source: Su Chin Hock, founder of Julie’s