[Exclusive Interview] CEO of DayDayCook Norma Chu on Promoting Cooking Asian Cuisine

Ciera Reeves
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In an exclusive interview, KpopWise have the privilege to sit down with Norma Chu, the visionary founder and CEO of DayDayCook, one of the leading Asian culinary media and lifestyle platforms. With a remarkable journey from a home kitchen to a global brand, Norma shares insights into developing DayDayCook while offering a glimpse into the strategic considerations, challenges, and opportunities that accompanied this pivotal moment in the company's evolution. Join us as we delve into the entrepreneurial spirit behind DayDayCook's success and explore the transformative impact of taking the company public.

DDC listing at the NYSE


KW: Can you share a bit about your background and what inspired you to start DayDayCook? 


Norma: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, but I grew up in Seattle, WA, spent a good 12 years there. And I really started the company about 12 years ago with the idea to create a platform that encourages future generations to enjoy cooking, that was about 2012. We started as a content creator, very much like, BuzzFeed and then Tasty or Tastemade, in the US so short form video content sharing on, social and video platform.


Then later on we expanded into content commerce incorporating some products and recommendations in our content and then a few years back, in 2019 right before the pandemic, we started launching our own branded product business. The journey for the business really started as content creation, sharing recipes, and then incorporating some selling products, recommendation of products, and now we are pretty much, a CPG food company, even though the business has evolved.


The value that we are creating for consumers fundamentally is  enabling them to cook more at home.  Our mission is very focused on promoting Asian cooking culture to the world.

 

KW: I just think way back in 2012, that short form content wasn't that popular yet. So, I think that you were really ahead of the times.


Norma:  Yeah, I think so. We started at the right time, and we also went to the mainland market in 2015, which also I think was the right move because we've ventured out into a bigger market and then talk about timing, we started expanding our footprint into the US market. Really looking into the opportunities here in 2022 and now with a couple of acquisitions in 2023, the timing is also amazing as you mentioned. I think there's an increasing popularity for a variety of Asian culture and of course you know Korean Pop culture is very popular and I think this is just a really exciting time for us to be here.

 

KW: Looking back over the past several years, what are some notable milestones that you're particularly fond of? I know it's a lot.


Norma: There's a lot, but when I look back on this whole journey, I think there are a couple of critical decisions and moments that really became important in terms of shaping the company into what it is today. Taking that plunge, leaving my previous banking job, and going into the entrepreneurship journey to kind of go for it, making this idea happen. Venturing out again from Hong Kong, the Hong Kong market into, going into Shanghai and then making a name for ourselves in a much bigger mainland China market in 2015. I think that was the second critical moment.


Once again venturing from content commerce to a consumer company or going into a supply chain launching our products into 2019 is another -- from outside looking in and we know that's a really big change. But once again, I think it's also a very fond decision and memory for us as a company because even though we know it's going to be challenging, we felt like it was the right move for us. Obviously, right now we think that was a really good decision.


Now finally, the fourth move will be looking into opportunities around the world and what brought us to the US market and now parts of Europe. It's also a very, very good decision. So, I think I would really summarize and boil it down to those four critical moments.

 

KW: I guess we talked about it a little bit, but what do you think caused  the significant growth of your business or what do you think were the key components of the success of your brand?


Norma: Well, I think being consistent and resilient and persevere through. It was a long period of time, but everything is relevant. We're building a 100-year plus company. The first 12 is just the first baby step. But I think it's important as a founder and entrepreneur, it's always important to have that mindset that will take a longer-term view and then we stay in the zone. Even though there are challenges and every day there are different. problems we have to solve, but we just keep going at it. I think that's the fundamental of building anything, let alone the building a, a sustainable and long-term business and then it's about it's about timing sometimes and always want to say that we happen to be at the right place at the right time and then we went for opportunity, right?


Having a little bit of a risk-taking mentality that is “okay, we see an opportunity and then we go for it.” At the same time 2015 entering the mainland China market, it was growing, e-commerce and social content video platforms were taking off at the time 2019, right before the pandemic. Also, it was the beginning of all these convenient new solutions, right? People started to cook at home a lot more, so again seeing it being the right time and the opportunity really going forward.


We see a very good number of trends right, let's talk a little bit about industry trends. So some of the trends that we're seeing really excited here in the US, the home is now the epicenter for recipe adventures, a lot of U.S. consumers actually have home as the first choice of exploring new recipes, right? So, we want to try different things. We try cooking Chinese food or, Thai food at home. And second thing, you know, there's a train called “local goes global.”  Previously local authentic Asian cuisine might be very niche, but now it's actually spreading across the world. It's going into the global markets. So that's a very important second trend.


I think the third one is really convenience. We are targeting younger and younger consumers and I think being able to create products. That allows younger consumers to enjoy cooking at home, so giving them the convenience of cooking something delicious and healthy and good for you. It's going to be a long-term trend. So now that we see these three industry trends in the US and our products actually are a perfect solution to these three trends. We are going forward acquiring very interesting brands here in the US, I'm sure you've read some of the some of the materials out there like Nona Lim brand and Yai’s Thai.  Nona Lim is female founded and they do Southeast Asian convenient new products, right. A lot of noodle soup, starter kits, and then a lot of bone broths. Recently, we launched under this this particular brand, 3 clean label cup noodle products. Then with the Yai’s Thai, same thing ready-made, ready to cook. Thai Curry sauces, marinade sauces, and we got some really cool stuff coming out for you guys. Thai in a couple of months’ time, but these two brands fit into that three main trends.



Enabling younger consumers to cook something at home under let's say 10 minutes and then really taking that authentic-- maybe previously viewed as niche flavors to a much more global stage like the US consumer market is the number one biggest consumer market in the world. Once again these products are designed to allow you to cook at home and then much more easy and easy manner so.


I mean, there's a combination of, coming back to your question, what defines or drives the success of the company I think, is about having this mentality as a founder and once again having this team around me that has the same value and mindset of perseverance and resilience. At the same time, just, you know, being at the right place, keeping an open mind, being aware of the opportunities that surrounds us going forward.


KW: Ever since the pandemic, I mostly only cook at home, so I will be looking into more of these products because I do enjoy like Asian cuisine, but things are kind of limited around here. So, I think ordering products like yours would be an amazing addition, and plus, I'm tired of eating the same few things all the time, so I'm always looking for something more exciting!


Norma: You just described the industry trend perfectly, yeah.


KW: Plus,  I'm like a caretaker for a family member that has some dietary restrictions. So,  it's also hard to figure out something different to give them.


Norma: Try the Nona Lim products, it's a clean label. I like it.

 

KW: What do you look for when you're evaluating your potential acquisitions?


Norma:  We have a few things in mind in terms of continuing to build out our brands in the US and also parts of Europe. I think the first thing is really having or finding the right partner that tells or tells their own authentic story of why they created this brand and what kind of cuisine and culture they want to share with the rest of the world. And having been able to find these brands and founders and teams they basically share the same mission as we do. We want to promote Asian culture to the world. So, that's the first, most important quality that we look for in the potential partner being authentic, having very clear positioning in terms of your storytelling through the products that you create. 


Second one I think is more about as you mentioned, clean labels are important and so we think about, and we're looking into different brands and really try to understand how they are coming up with their product when they think about new innovations. In the US and and also in Europe, clean labels are so important and it's becoming a major trend for younger consumers, and it really sets us apart versus other brands out there because if you look at some of the perception in the market for some Asian cuisine. They might think, oh, there's a lot of additives or MSG heavy. But if you're able to deliver authentic flavor profiles with clean ingredients and also controlling some of the sodium content in the product, it really sets that particular brand apart.


I think those are the two most important criteria that we have. Once again, it's super exciting time to be in this market right now because there are a lot of founders out there and there are a lot of great brands in the US market really trying to tell their own stories. So those are two main things that we look.

 

KW:  From the outside looking in,  I think that the food industry has become highly competitive. What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them.


Norma: I would always say and and we are still in the very early stage. We're still growing and trying to navigate the different opportunities right now out there in the market and sometimes I'm really fortunate where I'm surrounded or a lot by a lot of great advisors and mentors. They definitely run much bigger empires in different industry and food industry. I remember one time really learning the right mindset to view competition and you know, competition happens around us all the time and that particular mentor that I have, and she runs one of the biggest global drinks brands in the world. The way I look at competition is I remain focused like I'm aware of what's happening out there, but I don't always just focus on what other people are. I know what they're doing, but then I remain focused, and I'll continue to challenge myself and become a better version of my own brand and continue to build a stronger team internally. So instead of, you know, always competing against other people and say, "oh man, they were doing A, we got to do A and they gotta do B, we got to do B." I've had that mindset before. As a younger entrepreneur because you have so much pressure and you see other people doing similar things in your in your sector. But then I think, I learned from that conversation with that mentor is it's important that we stay alert and we are aware of what's happening in the industry. 


It's always important to remain focused on terms of what we want to build on our own. I think having that stronger internal mindset so that you don't get distracted by a lot of noise. So that's how I would view competition and how you how I overcome these challenges once again is really having that internal process. I mean what I call mental toughness because I think everything may be challenges in. You know something more operational or something more industry like competition at the end of the day as the founder, you always have to remain strong, right? You have to remain focused in order to lead your team forward and finding the right path. I think that would be my always go to mentality when facing different kinds of obstacles.


KW: I think that's very helpful. Despite what industry you're in. Like for me, I'm in the news media and there's also kind of a little bit of competition, but many of us are friends too, and we always bounce ideas off each other and share information, right?


Norma: Yeah, and I think that's a great point.  I think now in media food and we see the same thing that you just point out in the food space as well. There are a lot of founders, and we have this close-knit network right because we share, we see different same challenges and we see same opportunities. Instead of saying we're competing against each other, we become a strong founder network and then we can share knowledge and we share resources and together we can continue to build out this space together. So you know you're right sometimes but and that's also a different mindset change. Instead of seeing competition is a bad thing. No competition means more people believe in the opportunity that we see. So, we can continue to build out a bigger market together by working and collaborating together.


KW: Right. It's like the greater good, more opportunities and creating a better world and industry, I agree.

 

KW: How do you try to stay innovative in such a rapidly evolving food market?


Norma:  I'm I want to say I'm afraid in person, but I've always loved to try new things and be adventurous and and I think I'm very fortunate that my team is also very creative and innovate. I think it's really a group effort, but at the same time,  think I'm heavily influenced at the at the early age by my parents. Cooking with them a lot. They're not professional chefs, but my dad loves food and loves to eat. I think early on I have had been very curious. Always being creative and open minded. So I think having that early influence allow me to continue to innovate. I think the beginning of innovation is to have a really open mindset, open new ideas and continue to kind of receive new information. If you do that consistently, it's a lot easier to launch new products.


KW: As a successful female entrepreneur, what advice would you like to give an aspiring individual who's looking to enter maybe the food industry or start her own business?


Norma: Yeah, I love sharing one of the quotes that I love. “Do your best forget the rest.” Yes. One of my friends told me when I first started DDC and it stuck with me for, you know, past 12-13 years. I love it because it clears our mind and leaves no room for self-doubt and negative thoughts.


I think everybody had everybody have this sound in our heads, right? Then we're questioning ourselves, and I remember doing this in the very beginning of our entrepreneur journey and asking am I doing this right? Am I the right person to do this? Am I cut out for it? Back then I had all these questions. But you know what this quote really means is it doesn't matter, and stop asking, questioning, and challenging yourself as long as whatever we do, whatever decision we make, we do our best. Like going 100% really going for it. Then it doesn't matter. Then you won't have any regrets and that's why it is the next thing is forget the rest, stop questioning yourself. So, I think it's really important to have confidence in ourselves. Own up to our decisions and ideas, then we are going to be successful in whatever you know, dreams that we want to. We want to make happen.

 

KW: So, what are some emerging technologies or concepts that you find particularly interesting for the future of food?


Norma: AI is in everything now, even though AI is the trend and it's really popular, it is definitely going to be a part of everyone's lives going forward. One thing that hopefully AI can’t replace is food, and so in terms of interesting technology or innovation in our space there’re so many different things right in terms of production and how we create clean label, healthy products for humans.  If you look at Nona Lim, the new set of products that we launched, clean label cup noodles, we use freeze dried technology. Basically, it keeps the nutrition of the content of the of the products much better. It doesn't require deep frying the noodles. If you look at more conventional traditional cut noodles, most of the noodles have been deep fried so it has higher, you know, calorie content and the texture of the noodle changes a little bit. So the way we produce those products really have the mindset of, OK, how can we preserve the nutritional value of the ingredients a bit better and at the same time not taking away the convenience of the product so that would be something that we are for 2024, hopefully launching a few more skews applying this technology.


KW: Wow, that that sounds pretty exciting. Especially being able to preserve more nutrition of the food.


Norma: That's right, for sure.


KW: I guess this is inclusive of that, but are there any upcoming projects that you're excited about for DayDayCook?


Norma: There is so much overall I think we are just at the beginning of our journey, especially in the US market. There's just so many different opportunities that we see out there, so hopefully we can bring more high-quality exciting brands. I’m looking forward to partnering with a lot more fun, authentic, amazing founders here in the US.


KW: A little bit more about you, what are some of your favorite Asian dishes that you like to cook personally?


Norma: I just go back to my childhood dishes that my mom and dad used to make for me and one dish that really stands out is pork belly stew. My mom actually started with my grandmother. My mom made that for us, since we were little kids. When I was in college, and then spending a lot of time away from home and then started to build DC and moving to a new city in Shanghai. Spending a lot more time in in the US, I would make that dish because It reminds me of home, and that's my favorite thing to make.

 

KW: In terms of DayDayCook products, what is something that you would recommend for a first-time person that's learning to try to cook at home?


Norma: I think Nona Lim’s noodles starter kits are perfect because it has the key ingredients in there, the soup base or the sauces. You basically just, you know, if you throw in some of the proteins that you like and veggies and then really literally stir fry it or cook it in soup bases and minutes. Say within 8 minutes, then you're done. So I think that will be a perfect start. And then if you want to fetch your up a little bit, also under the Nona Lim brands, we launch two meat entrees. Once again has it comes with the pork and it comes with the chicken and then another pouch of sauces. So we have a Singaporean Curry chicken, also a Filipino Pork Adobo. I think those are like if you want to level up, that'll be the second stage. The third, final stage for now will be Yai’s Thai curry sauce. If you want to venture out into really cooking a bigger dish, like a bigger portion of a curry stew and they can share with family and friends.

 



KW: Are there any like final thoughts of wisdom about following your entrepreneurial footsteps?


Norma: To summarize it, “Do your best. Forget the rest.”


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You can check out DayDayCook's brands and such as Nona Lim and Yai's Thai at local and online retailers such as Walmart, Target, Whole Foods, Cosco, Amazon, and more. 

 

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