Janus Ong, Ami Lu and Cindy Wu have been friends since their university days.
They may be trained in different fields — particularly accounting and social services — but one thing’s for sure: they share a common love for food.
Upon graduation, Ami and Janus forayed into entrepreneurship. In particular, Janus founded companies in technology and F&B industries.
Although they each had their own thing going for them, the three decided to come together to create a larger-than-life version of food, which propelled them to start up Nom Nom Plush.
“What was a passionate project turned into a business opportunity,” expressed Janus.
Sold 1,000 food plushies in two weeks
It all started when the team was having a random conversation about noticing cushions of common international food being produced. It was then that they decided to produce cushions that signify their culture.
Founded in 2016, Nom Nom Plush started as a passion project when the team wanted to turn nostalgic local food into fun food cushions. The primary goal for Nom Nom Plush is to touch hearts with the memory that each food evokes.
During the Chinese New Year celebration in 2017, the team launched its first product known as the Pineapple Tart Plush. That year, the nation celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence where the nostalgic spirit was high and most people were raving about local-themed items.
“All we wanted was to have fun back then and we were surprised when we sold all 1,000 units within the first two weeks of launch,” recalled Cindy.
Over the years, the trio experimented with various products including stationery and lifestyle items. However, the trio learnt that they had strayed away from their original vision of creating food cushions and chose to go back to basics.
“Along the way, we learnt the importance of focus and clarity in vision,” explained Cindy.
Expanding their plush toy business to cater to pets
Spurred by the success of Nom Nom Plush, the trio went on to launch a sister brand called Furball Collective.
It was founded in 2020 when the team realised that their customers used their cushions and key chains as toys for their pets.
Over time, the team received requests to produce cushions that can be made into chew toys for their pets.
“We decided to experiment with this new product and gained so much traction and love from the pet community since our inception,” shared Cindy.
The vision of the brand was to create nose work toys for pets as there are so many unexplored terrains in the pet toy domain.
They started out by creating chew toys from their existing Nom Nom Plush designs, but have since ventured beyond as part of their creative endeavours.
“While our vision for this brand has not changed, what has evolved is our strengthened confidence,” said Cindy.
She also expressed that the brand’s story promises nostalgia with a touch of playfulness. Hence their tagline, “Zero Calorie, 100% Goodness”.
In January 2021, the team launched their six-piece Curry Fish Head pet bed set. The set comprises of a bed with attached nose work toys, and it became one of their bestsellers during the Christmas season in 2021.
That same year in December, the team launched their Round-the-World Collection that features international food cushions. They have three designs at the moment – Bolo Bun, Egg Tart and Dumpling.
Having soft-launched another product in December 2021, the hotpot nose work toy will be this year’s Chinese New Year blockbuster.
“The reception has been awesome so far and we’ve received international queries from pet owners in Canada, USA and Indonesia since.”
Both brands — Nom Nom Plush and Furball Collective — will be crossing their 100,000 units sold mark in 2022.
How they created the local food-themed plushies
Nom Nom Plush and Furball Collective plushies are all designed by the team and usually conceptualised after a few iterations.
As part of their product quality control process, the team would survey the market for interesting food concepts which are widely recognisable among society.
They have to ensure a good balance between realism, cuteness and recognisability in their plushies.
Janus is the one in charge of design planning — he would come up with a design concept once surveying of the market for food concepts is completed.
The process of design planning includes purchasing various versions of a particular food that they are going to prototype, creating videos of these food, providing the manufacturers with 3D artwork, creating samples, and reaching out to potential users for feedback and comments.
To put things in perspective, pineapple tarts are made differently by different bakers, love letters come in various forms, and ice cream has several flavours.
With these varying elements, the team makes it a point to decide which designs would be huggable, yet aesthetically pleasing, for its customers.
“The entire process from conceptualisation to market launch can take between six to eight months as we hold high standards to ensure fun without compromising on quality and usability,” said Janus.
Before sending the products for mass production, a final prototype would be created in order to make a final assessment with the team and potential users.
“It is important to us that the design is aesthetically pleasing, yet of good quality,” said Cindy.
However, having to constantly innovate and meet market demands is not easy. The going gets harder when they come cross brands that have plagiarised their product designs.
“It is disheartening, but it does not make us falter and what cannot be replicated is the brand story that we have carved over the years,” said Janus.
Additionally, Nom Nom Plush faces the challenge of retail partners with business practices that turned rouge, leading to several issues such as lost stocks without compensation and the failure to pay the brand for goods sold.
They have sold more than 20,000 plushies
As mentioned earlier, Nom Nom Plush launched with great fanfare — 1,000 plushies were sold out within the first two weeks of their launch, which served as a great morale booster.
To date, the brand has sold more than 20,000 plushies, excluding its keychains and pet products.
Above all, it considers its biggest success to be the pioneer in the market of local food-inspired plushies. “We are the first brand to do so in Singapore and it has been pretty amazing so far,” said Janus.
Meanwhile, Furball Collective has inked partnerships with notable companies such as Hotel Intercontinental on their Paw-cation Package in 2020 and 2021, in which they supplied toys in the hotel’s welcome basket for guests.
Additionally, the brand has nurtured a community of pet owners and is grateful for their fans and customers.
“While they say we have inspired them to appreciate heritage, we want to give them a shoutout and say they have inspired us to make more creative toys for their beloved pets,” said Cindy.
Moving forward, the team intends to focus on Furball Collective as it looks to launch a series of fun plushies. It also hopes to expand both its brands internationally in 2022 to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and the United States.
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Featured Image Credit: Nom Nom Plush