Kooky: sharing Asian exotic fruits with the west

Aline Burgmann and Deena Tan created dried fruit brand Kooky to bring the flavors of their childhoods to new audiences.
Kooky Asian exotic fruits 16x9 hero

Friends who met while dropping their kids at school, Aline Burgmann and Deena Tan both grew up surrounded by Asian exotic fruits – but found that sourcing these products in Europe was difficult and expensive. 

Aline, whose favorite fruit is mangosteen – a sweet and tangy fruit popular in south-east Asia – was disappointed not to be able to share this part of her Asian heritage with her daughter after moving to the UK. If she did ever find a mangosteen, it was likely to have been sprayed with chemicals, both to enhance the flavor and to avoid bringing insects and pests over during the import process. Aline wanted to find a way to bring the fruits of her childhood to the European market and expose a whole new group of people to their wonders. 

What followed was Kooky Pretty Unique Fruit, Aline and Deena's brand of freeze-dried exotic fruits that partners directly with farms in Thailand. Alongside mangosteen, the brand stocks dried dragon fruit, jackfruit, mango and Thai banana. Not only did the founders want to educate people about these fruits and their nutritional benefits, but it was important to them to be able to provide them at an affordable price. 

Building a supply chain

Kooky is based in the UK – not a country with a climate suited to growing jackfruits and mangoes in abundance. And this was the pair's first hurdle: finding a way to get these fruits to people in the UK and Europe without compromising quality and flavor. Aline and Deena's solution was to have a partner in a location where the fruit can be picked and dried when it's ripe. ‘We had to find a technique that increased shelf life and kept hold of the nutrients in the fruit,’ Aline says. ‘That's why it's important to produce where the fruit grows. Otherwise, by the time the fruit would arrive in the UK, we'd have lost all of our money because it would have gone foul.’ 

An unfamiliar product 

Kooky has made a name for itself selling products that are relatively unusual in the European market – even the banana it sells (a small plum variety grown in Thailand) is pretty hard to source. When the pair ran a sampling session, they found that nine out of 10 people didn't even know what a mangosteen was. So, their next challenge was getting people to pick up the product in the first place. 

Working with a marketing agency, they created distinct and eye-catching packaging that would pop out from store shelves. ‘We're selling something very unusual, so we know that we need help with attracting people's attention,’ Aline says. ‘Being an Asian-owned brand, we needed a mascot that would help people to understand, too.’ Aline and Deena settled on a tiger, with a different color for each flavor in the range. ‘It's [added] a quirky and modern touch,’ Aline says. 

The brand has discovered that fruit packaged in this way has found a receptive audience among parents looking for healthy snacks for their kids. ‘Kids want gummy bears, crisps and sweets, and our way around that is to play along and create something texture-wise that imitates what they are looking for,’ Aline says. 

The brand hits the mark in two ways, she adds: parents can satisfy their kids' cravings for snack foods more healthily, while at the same time educating them about exotic fruit varieties they might otherwise never experience. 

This article was first published in 100 Ways to Make a Living 2022. To purchase a copy or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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