Next-generation sauciness

Enterprise: Poppysmack

What they offer: Two Vietnamese sisters are bringing the genuine taste of their homeland to healthy, wholesome condiments, sauces and meal kits here in Australia.

Sisters Hanh and Tran Truong’s parents ran a street stall in a small village by the Mekong River in Vietnam, at which they served freshly brewed, aromatic-filtered Vietnamese coffee together with simple but wholesome meals such as clear noodle soup (Hủ Tiếu) for the surrounding neighbourhood and soldiers at the army barracks nearby. “Vietnam did not have refrigeration then, so everything was made from scratch and fresh,” Hanh says. “There was no such thing as using MSG or preservatives.”

After arriving in Australia in the early 1980s, their parents ran a small cake-making business from their housing commission home’s kitchen, supplying delicate treats to the new Asian grocery stores that popped up amongst the new migrants’ communities in the early 1980s. “In one way or another, every member of the family helped with the production of these delicate treats, from sorting, grinding, steaming, stirring, rolling, shaping, wrapping right through to delivering goods to the stores,” Hanh recalls.

“We wanted to turn our cooking into a business that shared our history, culture and flavours with our community.”

The sisters both got jobs in the IT industry, and although they travelled regularly and were very busy, they yearned for healthy yet delicious meals for themselves and their growing families. “We looked hard for wholesome fresh ingredients and sauces with which to cook up our native Vietnamese dishes quickly on workdays, but there was nothing available off the shelf that met the taste and quality that we were after,” Hanh laments. So, the siblings took to cooking their favourite sauces themselves in large quantities so they and their families always had something available in their fridges.

“Doing this sowed the seeds of entrepreneurial instincts within us,” Hanh explains. “We wanted to turn our cooking into a business that shared our history, culture, and flavours with our community.”

Calling their venture PoppySmack to celebrate ‘the sound of lips smacking together in satisfaction’, Hanh and Tran produce sauces, condiments and ready-to-eat meal kits.

“When our parents ran their street stall in Mekong, they sourced their vegetables from a farmer up the hill and rowed across the river for their meat and fish,” Hanh says. “Their carbon footprint was extremely low.” To adhere to the same principle in their business model and ensure that their products don’t have to cost the earth, the sisters source as many of their ingredients as possible from local farmers in regional Victoria. And their bottles and paper packaging are either recyclable and/or made from recyclable material.

“With freshest local ingredients, small-batch production and recyclable packaging, we are faced with the challenge that our products are less competitive in price sitting next to mass-produced options made by companies somewhere in Asia,” Hanh says. “Despite that challenge, we continue to remain true to our core values and principles.”

At farmers markets and food expos the sisters attended in the early days, they met many customers with a dislike for MSG, food colouring and additives, reinforcing their belief that their commitment to meeting consumers’ growing preferences for gluten-free, vegan-friendly and low-FODMAP products.

Hanh and Tran are optimistic about the future. “As our business grows, we see our loyal customers sharing with their families and friends, and bringing them to meet us at the market stalls,” Hanh enthuses. “It is so rewarding to see our business grow by word of mouth, or in our case ‘food to mouth’.”

They envisage their sauces and meal kits on the shelves of independent grocery stores across Australia “We also would like to see cafés, pubs, and small restaurants incorporate PoppySmack sauces into their menus,” Hanh says. “We are currently developing new product lines and looking forward to sharing these with our PoppySmackers.”

The sisters are already making waves, with the exposure they gained through an AAMI TV and billboard campaign, which resulted in their rice paper roll kits being selected by Samsung Australia for a large event.

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine