Vivien and Howard Wong, founders of Little Moons
Siblings Vivien and Howard Wong gave up their successful careers in the City to launch mochi ice cream brand Little Moons back in 2010. Today, it is a £3m turnover business.
Little Moons is a family run, London based producer of artisan mochi ice cream, which was launched back in 2010 by siblings Howard and Vivien Wong.
But what is 'artisan mochi ice cream?' you're probably asking. Basically, it's a soft and sticky rice ball stuffed with gelato ice cream and the outcome is a soft desert treat.
The Wong's started the business after growing tired of working in the City. Vivien, a chartered accountant by trade, spent four years working in financial analysis at Barclays Capital, after three years at Baker Tilly and Howard was an analyst at JPMorgan Cazenove.
They started off supplying restaurants and it didn’t take long until they began exporting their products across the globe, supplying restaurants from Sweden to Spain, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
More recently however, as the company has continued to grow, they have begun making their products available to retail after securing deals with the likes of Ocado and WholeFoods.
Seven years on, they produce 12,000 Little Moons annually, saw sales reach £3m last year and are eyeing further success during the year ahead.
So, what inspired the duo to quit their jobs and launch Little Moons? We caught up with co-founder Howard to find out more…
How did you come up with the idea?
My family ran an oriental bakery and my sister Vivien and I grew up around traditional mochi, which is usually filled with a sweet red bean paste. I first tried mochi ice cream while in New York and the combination of different tastes and textures blew my mind. We thought we could make an even better version in London and that’s where the idea came from.
Why did you decide to turn the idea into a business? Can you remember the lightbulb moment which sparked the idea?
First and foremost, I believed in the product. Mochi ice cream is a delicious product, full of wonder and the ability to delight so from that perspective, I thought it would do well in the UK and Europe. At the same time, there were certain trends working in our favour. Japanese cuisine was becoming increasingly popular and sophisticated in the UK but there was still very little awareness of the amazing desserts that come out of Japan. Most Japanese restaurants at the time had pretty uninspired dessert offerings and we thought mochi ice cream would be perfect for that.
Starting up a business is challenging for most entrepreneurs, did you encounter any specific challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?
It sounds clichéd but starting up a small business is basically endless problem solving. There are decisions that need to be made and challenges that need to be overcome on a daily basis. One of the earliest examples was figuring out how to perfectly combine gelato which is cold and mochi which is warm when freshly steamed. It took us about 2 years of experimenting to get this right.
The second challenge has been educating consumers about mochi. In the beginning, no one knew what mochi was but we've invested in a lot of sampling and we're finding that in London, people increasingly know how to appreciate good mochi.
I remember when sushi first hit the UK and some consumers couldn't get their head around eating raw fish and now it's loved on high streets all over the country. We think mochi will follow a similar curve. Beyond that, I think we had the usual problems facing small business – how to scale, get funding and how to get noticed.
Did you receive any support such as advice or funding? How did it help you get started if so?
We received some grants from UK Trade and Investment to help us start exhibiting abroad and grow exports which we found very helpful. We also find the food industry generally a very friendly one with lots of small business people willing to help give advice and learnings from their experience. You don’t always have to take the advice given to you but I think it’s important to be open minded and listen so you can make your own mind up.
How has the company grown since its launch?
Since we launched we’ve had double-digit growth every year and started exporting our products to countries ranging from Spain to Sweden to Saudi Arabia and Dubai. We were getting a lot of messages on social media asking if our products were available to enjoy at home so more recently we’ve been very focused on launching a retail range in supermarkets.
What would you say your biggest achievement has been since launching the business?
Our biggest achievement to date has been to become the bestselling ice-cream brand at Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods is personally, one of my favourite grocery stores and within the industry, is known to offer some of the most innovative and high-quality products so we’re very proud to be seeing such success there. Our second proudest moment was when we got listed at Ocado and so were available for mochi mavens to order nationwide.
What about running the business as two siblings, has that thrown up any obstacles or has it all been plain sailing?
My sister and I get on really well but running a business can be very stressful. There was a time when we were not only working together but also sharing a flat. It’s something I would recommend avoiding if you can! We’ve started to try and stop talking business when we are out of the office and I also think it’s important to switch off from the business from time to time and keep perspective on the more important things in life like friends, family and health.
Looking forward, what are your plans for the future?
We have exciting plans for the future. We have just launched the UK’s first self-serve mochi bar at Whole Foods on High Street Kensington which they are rolling out to some of their other stores. We are talking to some other retailers about further listings but it's all top secret for now.
And finally, what three nuggets of advice would you give to two siblings looking to go into business together?