As with any traditional business, it’s a challenge to keep things as they are, while driving innovation forward. In the case of Lana Cakes, the problem lies in maintaining the same flavor profile – the taste that customers have grown up with – despite changes in technology and the supply chain.
For Kwan, having a taste heritage is important, but he believes things shouldn’t stay the status quo. For example, while the classic chocolate fudge cake has remained largely unchanged, customer demands for an even more chocolatey version have persuaded it to come up with a Fudge Lovers Only (FLO) variety, two-thirds of the weight of the cake consist of pure fudge. He affectionately calls it “a chocolate cake on steroids”.
Lana Cakes is charming and anachronistic: the business still operates from the same single location, and it had no internet footprint until the end of 2018. Compare that with the eruption of home bakery businesses that have sprung up since the start of the pandemic, many of them instantly taking to Instagram to attract customers.
“We look at Instagram, and some of these [social media] tools, like ways to promote what we have rather than sell. We are still a very traditional pastry shop. And we think word of mouth still works, ”Kwan said.
What about franchise plans, then?
“I think given the challenges of the pandemic, this is not an area I am focusing on. I think in the longer term I would like to consider taking Lana Cakes internationally. But for now, I’m trying to make sure that our business in Singapore is strong and as good as it is.
“We have built the business on quality and consistency. It is never about mass production; it’s never about winning as much as you can. I see it more as a marathon, where we want to maintain that legacy, we want to go the distance. It’s not a sprint, where you just grow. If we are only focused on expansion, can we really maintain the quality and consistency that customers expect from us? He asked rhetorically.
There is no doubt that running a business that has been around for 57 years comes with its fair share of responsibility. “At any time, a customer can walk into the store and say they’ve been eating this cake for 30 or 40 years. I feel like I almost have to try harder. When I returned, I knew that it was not easy to take over this business.