Some Background on Hotpot Queen
Today's edition of "Together Talks" campaign, KLS had the opportunity to interview Hotpot Queen and Founder, Jia Liao, From a tiny restaurant in Chongqing struggling to fit three tables to a hot pot phenomenon and innovator, Hotpot Queen has kept it spicy since 1982. Now, we are on a mission to bring "the Biggest, Boldest Sichuan Flavors in the World" to everyone's kitchen.
There's spicy, and then there is málà, the characteristic flavor that my hometown of Chongqing in the Sichuan region is famous for. If you want it málà, you go to Chongqing [CHAWNG-ching]. In 1982, five months after Jia was born, her mother, He Yongzhi, opened Little Swan, a small hotpot restaurant in the heart of Chongqing that struggled to fit three tables. Little Swan marked the beginning of the widespread proliferation of the "Yuan Yang" mala hotpot, her mother's invention inspired by the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. This dish would go on to become one of the most iconic staples of Sichuan cuisine and cement her legacy as the "Queen of Hotpot."
Often referred to as one of the Three Furnace cities, Chongqing is renowned not only for its bold Sichuan flavors but also for its intensely hot weather and its uniquely colorful, loud, and boisterous people, entrepreneurs, and culture.
The beginning of creating her company, Hotpot Queen, goes back a generation. Jia's mother is known across China as she is the inventor of the hot pot cooking apparatus. Utilizing the 40-plus-year history of her family's brand has been instrumental for Hotpot Queen. Being able to incorporate their supply chain into the three new SKUs Jia has developed brings a unique flavor to the market. The family owns a factory where the pepper is grown, thus securing straight farm-to-table preparation. Owning that aspect of their supply chain ensures that quality is never sacrificed. Their level of quality and authenticity stand above the rest due to their longevity in the space. Jia also mentioned that many people or companies will self-name either their brand or their spokesperson, but with Hotpot Queen, it truly is the perfect definition with 40-plus years of legacy to back it up.
On March 8th, 2023, Hotpot Queen made its debut at Expo West. It was the first day of their website being launched and their first day of business. Jia, a second-generation woman-owned brand-new company with a history dating back to 1982, the year she was born, was bringing her family's legacy to the US to introduce a bold new unique flavor profile. The "mala" revolution, which she believes will gain plenty of steam, pun intended. The goal of Hotpot Queen is to connect people through great food experiences. She wants to create those experiences and allow individuals to experience a new umami, Mala.
In Jia's opinion, Mala is the next Umami trend. She explained, "I feel that Mala has the potential to be the next umami, the next flavor profile that's just gonna take the world by storm. And we want to start this Mala revolution. Food has always been a very important part of Asian culture, right? People get together, they enjoy food, and through food, that's where they connect. They share these great experiences so I also want to use food as a medium to introduce our culture. That's where people get to know the region and the culture."
The unique angle of being second-generation while also having such an incredible and robust support system, Jia believes, gives them a unique advantage. She told us very few brands have that level of longevity and success they can hang their hats on. But Jia understands that having to create her path. She believes this starts with the flavor of her three unique products. She explained that the feedback she is receiving on the three SKUs has been incredibly positive in the company's short duration.
Jia explained the challenges of growing up not only in a family where your mother is known as the queen of Hotpot in an entire country but also being the only child. "There's a lot of pressure put on me to carry the family legacy. Even when I was like five, six years old. My mother would put me in the conference room where she had meetings. I didn’t know what's going on, but she's like, well, you know, if you are in this environment and then one day you can be a lady boss too. She was trying to instill the entrepreneur spirit in me, even when I was very, very young."
For Hotpot Queen and Jia, there was no accidental discovery of a product or formula; it was literally in her blood from day one. She understood the difficulty of not only educating a new audience on the success and legacy of her family but also creating her path. She is determined to write her chapter and carve her path. Jia mentioned how tough it is growing up when your mother is a celebrity who has had a lifetime full of awards and achievements. But with that provides her an opportunity to utilize her family's contributions in the space and trust amongst consumers. She explained, "I do appreciate that I have a different set of tools and resources at my disposal. Getting to stand on the shoulders of a giant to start a business is such a blessing. Being able to start not on ground zero but the highest mountaintop is such an opportunity. But there absolutely is pressure that comes with that." Jia mentioned.
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Jia has always considered herself a foodie, blaming her family's business as the main culprit. The idea for her creation of Hotpot Queen started with solving a problem for herself. Her children did not like spicy food, but she missed it while being here in the states. She took advantage of her family's tried and true formulas to concoct an answer. She could still prepare her normal foods that her entire family would eat, while then at the end adding her desired level of spice. She believed if she had this need there were other parents out there with similar demands. When she considered that and the market's appetite for new and unique flavors, she felt the time was right to create Hotpot Queen.
She explained, "I'm like, oh, great. This is the time I can bring our expertise. We have our own factory so there’s a supply chain behind us. I feel all the products in the market are slightly more Americanized. And now and age, if people look to purchase something at the ethnic isle in the supermarket, they want the authentic thing. That’s what I want to do. Curating the best flavors of Sichuan to America and keeping it real."
Hotpot Queen launched, but it wasn't without challenges. To have that premium look, all of her sauces were in glass jars, which was creating all sorts of spillage issues. Jia had to learn quickly and adapt to that. Secondly, after her incredible debut at Expo West, she had to learn the CPG business with distributors. While many were interested, her current inventory level wouldn't suffice as the expiration date wouldn't align. She also anticipated that 80% of her business would come from online sales and 20% offline. A month in, she made the discovery that she had that model backward.
Today, the company is currently in over 300 stores nationwide. Such a remarkable achievement for such a short amount of time on the market. Jia explained that when she set out to start Hotpot Queen, her goal to be incredibly thrilled was 500 stores for this year, but she has always been optimistic. She understood that if she could reach 300 stores, she would be satisfied, and the goal was achieved. Jia explained she is loving the flexibility of being an entrepreneur. The ability to be at home when she needs to and raise her two young children is so impactful for her.
Hotpot Queen came out of the gate with huge traction. Jia told us that demand spiked after Expo West. Everything was looking great and then she ran into the product expiration issue. Then everything hit an immediate halt. Jia shared with us, "We got so much interest initially. But we weren't getting a yes; we were getting a maybe, not now, or check back in the fall. I was so stressed out. I'm bleeding every single month trying to stay afloat. There's always interest, but there's no order. I almost got to the point I wondered is there something wrong with me?”
Jia continued, "I would email retail buyers who are interested, and we will be in this engaging back and forth conversation and all of a sudden they would just go radio silent for months and no reply at all. No matter how many emails or calls I made, there’s no reply without any explanation. " She mentioned the initial introduction into the buying cycle was very challenging for her.
She didn't have any sales until August from major chains. It was a meeting with Fresh Market in April that ultimately would prove to be a huge pivotal moment for the company. But again, like all good things, Jia would have to wait until the end of July to get in. 162 stores. And with that, the traction was rolling for Hotpot Queen.
Jia explained the attraction to her products, "First people like our packaging. They like the story; the packaging is just a little bit eye-catching, but when they try the product and they're really convinced. Which is why I love sampling. When I demo and do sampling events, we have a sample to purchase rate of over 50%. These constant validations and responses from consumers convince me we are on the right track."
Piece of Advice
The conversation with Jia concluded with her imparting a piece of advice.
"It's a journey. This year has been extremely difficult for me, filled with ups and downs. I experienced a high point and then a significant low. However, eventually, things started to improve.
This year is indeed the most difficult year of my career. Back in China, being part of the family business provided some shelter from these worries. Here, without that kind of security, it's just me and my husband running our two-person company. Amidst all this, a piece of advice I once heard resonated with me: “Don’t suffer in advance. Suffer only when it gets here. Our imagination is often worse than reality.” I spent an entire summer engulfed in anxiety, as if a dark cloud loomed over me. Despite sunny days, my world felt rainy and cloudy. This anxiety began to diminish my joy in seeing my kids laugh and play, constantly fretting about whether my company would survive the next month. Eventually, I grew comfortable with the realization that I can only do my best to things I have control over. The most valuable lesson one can learn is to enjoy the journey and try not to worry prematurely. Worry only when the situation presents itself and address it then."
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Klimson Logistics Solutions - Together Talks with Hotpot Queen feature #81
*Klimson Logistics Solutions is an Industry Leading Customer Service 3PL. Our focus and commitment to our clients has us striving to be the BEST customer service 3PL for LTL, FTL, Reefer, and Drayage in the country. KLS, freight company, is a 3PL providing nationwide logistics solutions. KLS shipping services include: LTL freight, FTL freight, Reefer LTL freight, Reefer FTL freight, and Drayage. Klimson Logistics Solutions thanks you for viewing our marketing campaign, "Together Talks". If you have any interest in being featured or questions regarding your freight operations please contact us today!
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For reference, our company only had 6.2% of all shipments go to dispute in 2022 and we successfully won 91% of those disputes on behalf of our customers.
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Chambers and Owens
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There are thousands of freight brokers and 3PL in our industry. Barrier to entry is rather easy and agents or owners will often hire sales people without any intention of properly training them. It results in high turnover for many freight companies and a forgettable experience for the client. We choose to operate differently through our consistency. We truly care about doing right by our clients and prospects too. While we would love to help provide our services to every company we speak with, that just isn’t realistic. We won’t always be the right fit for every company that moves freight and that is ok. Our authenticity as a shipping company sets us apart from the competition and that is backed up by our testimonials. We also run a marketing campaign bi-weekly called “Together Talks”. We interview, highlight, and promote two businesses every week. Our goal is to grow our network, make new connections, and learn something new with each collaboration. Check it out on our website and if you’re interested in being featured reach out.
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