By Lucy Li Liong
Lucy joined the family business founded by her father, in 1999 as Executive Director. She has over 35 years of professional experience in business administration, human resources, organisational development, sales and marketing, and business strategy. Prior to joining T&T International Foods, she had a long career in consultancy in different international consulting firms which culminated as Associate Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mauritius. Her professional experience includes textiles, foodstuffs, cargo handling, NGOs, government organisations in Madagascar, Rwanda and Mauritius. She has been the Chairperson of the company’s Board of Directors since 2002.
1980 marked the beginning of Minn Apollo (instant noodles), winner of Top Brands of Mauritius for 3 consecutive years (2017 – 2019). Launched during difficult economic times when the Government was encouraging import substitution manufacturing, it took all the grit and innovative efforts of a team led by Gerard Tin Fook, the founder, to establish Minn Apollo as a household brand by the 1990s.
A fun TV advert depicted predictably two astronauts landing from an APOLLO spaceship on the moon and cooking Apollo noodles.
Although fresh noodles were very popular at the time in Chinese cafés and countryside taverns, Mauritians were unfamiliar with instant noodles packed as a ready-to-eat product. A purposeful communications strategy was implemented to educate about the product quality, features and attributes. An on-the-ground team worked tirelessly to visit retail shops and to deliver cooking and tasting sessions (the first company doing it at the time) in community clubs in both urban and rural areas. The brand partnered with chefs to create Apollo recipes and conduct cooking shows. Gradually, as the product got established, print and TV adverts reinforced the brand.
Mothers who were increasingly involved in active life, were won over by the product of trusted quality. They needed to feed their family, sometimes after long hours of work in factories, and this product was a stress-free answer to simple, delicious meals. Kids who were back home earlier than parents needed
an easy-to-prepare “snack” before dinner, and again this product was the solution.
Soon it became a convenient meal, quick to prepare, with add-ons of one’s own choosing that would make it an enjoyable meal for consumers of all ages, background and status. It was adopted by all ethnic communities of the nation because of its versatility (four different flavours celebrating the tastes and culture of different communities), each one cooking it in his/her own way: vegetarian or with meat, eggs, cheese – depending on the mood, the inspiration, the pantry or the wallet.
It transformed home cooking by the fact that it encouraged customisation; everybody had his/her own favourite recipe. It entrenched itself in consumers’ lifestyle. It became a comfort food for some and a ‘saviour’ food for others during financially stretched midmonths because of its affordability.
As a product with typical Mauritian flavours loved by all Mauritians, it has created meaningful connections with its local consumers and is considered as a national product serving every home – so much so that the brand became the generic name for instant noodles. It is no wonder that Mauritians living abroad would take boxes of Apollo with them to enjoy their favourite comfort meals away from home – but just like home.
Other brands of instant noodles were, of course, available in grocery shops abroad but “none tasted like home”.
First time exchange of used packaging of Apollo noodles and Mona dried noodles for a glass noodle bowl.
Apollo noodles were first exported in the year 2000 to neighbouring Indian Ocean islands. As, it went global, the brand got listed in well-known chain stores and in specialty shops in several countries in Europe. To have stayed relevant during the last 40 years meant that we were driven by passion and renewed positive spirit to keep the brand top of mind. There were a lot of hurdles, but we are very proud that having put the needs of our loyal customers first, they have made it a part of their life. We kept engaging with them through regular promotional campaigns: give-aways in the noodle packet (puzzle collections of animals, cars, motor cycles individually wrapped), exchange of used noodle packaging for bowls and cups to thank them for their loyalty.
The most successful campaign and memorable in the minds of our consumers is the exchange of used packaging for a collection of colourful bowls and tumblers in the years 1999 and 2000 to mark the advent of the new century.
In recent years, we have advertised on billboards during national Independence week, whereby the message is the unifying attribute of Apollo noodles as a national product.
With the digital era coming into play, we are moving with the times and interacting with our consumers through Facebook and Instagram. In the past years, Apollo noodles has expanded its offerings for a new level of convenience and more sophisticated flavours, by introducing cup noodles ‘Apollo dan Bol’ and a ‘Gourmet’ range.
In 2002, the packaging was redesigned. Though we did not change the brand’s logo, the background colours became more colourful, photos were more visually enticing. The feel of the pack was more modern and differentiated from Asian brands. Buyers started to associate the flavours with their background colour. In 2019, the packaging was revamped and the flavour font style made more prominent.
Apollo is moving together with the expectations of new generations of customers: in yesteryear times it was for working moms in the export manufacturing sector, today it is addressing consumers-on-the-go not willing to cook on the stove and those looking for restaurant-like experience. As it continues to evolve and embrace the new age that we live in, its focus remains “to stay loved”.