How a small Thai town’s pickled crabs became an online sensation

Pickled crabs are a delicacy in Thailand, layering sour and acidic notes onto the sweet umami of raw crab. And nowhere are they quite as delicious as in Chanthaburi, making them as rare as they are delicious.

Today, it’s a little easier to get your hands on this prized treat. Pookai Dong Klong Khlung is now a household name selling tons of pickled crab online every month. But it took a lot of hard work, and a little help from dtac Net for Living, for its founder Penpan Pongsiri to go from near-bankruptcy to online sales sensation.

Sitting on Tessaban 4 Road in Chanthaburi’s Khlung district, Pookai Dong Klong Khlung started as a restaurant. It is decorated in bright orange, the color of crab roe.

“Sea crabs from Klong Khlung rank among the best. Our area is the ultimate source of clean, fragrant crabs. Chanthaburi has both freshwater and the sea. The brackish water in the Khlung canal is ideal for crabs,” Ms. Penpan said. 

Ms. Penpan used to engage in fruit wholesaling – her family business. But four years ago, she noticed the emerging popularity of crabs brined in fish soy sauce and decided to change her path.

In the beginning, Ms. Penpan focused on selling her pickled crabs locally. She did almost everything by herself: buying crabs, checking the roe and killing the crabs in icy cold water. Her attention to detail did not go unnoticed. Pookai Dong Klong Khlung is the first pickled-crab producer to win a certificate from the Food and Drug Administration. 

“If our products are good, word-of-mouth will do its magic. We show our honesty by serving egg-filled crab shells. Fishermen help choose the right crabs for us. We then soak them in our special sauce. We have gone this far because our sauce has been improved over time based on feedback from customers. We really must thank the voice of customers for helping us develop such a perfect taste,” Ms. Penpan said.

Not a Rosy Path

However, Ms. Penpan also revealed that it was “really hard” in the beginning. In the first year, Penpan advertised her Pookai Dong Klong Khlung via her personal Facebook account. Her business was barely profitable. One day, her restaurant was so empty that some investors walked in and offered a takeover proposal. Ms. Penpan, however, did not give up. 

However, Ms. Penpan also revealed that it was “really hard” in the beginning. In the first year, Penpan advertised her Pookai Dong Klong Khlung via her personal Facebook account. Her business was barely profitable. One day, her restaurant was so empty that some investors walked in and offered a takeover proposal. Ms. Penpan, however, did not give up. 

“I dreamed that if you come to Klong Khlung, you must visit Pookai Dong Klong Khlung. I wanted to make my restaurant a landmark, the pride of my hometown, and a legend of deliciousness. It is my vision. It is what I will make happen,” Penpan said, with fierce determination glittering in her eyes. 

Last year, her business started to break even. This year, it looks set to deliver profits. 

“Have I ever felt discouraged? My answer is yes. There are so many details to tend to, from stocks to pricing. Without the strong determination of its owner, a restaurant will flop. I have kept going only because I am so focused on my goals,” Penpan said. 

Branding matters

Ms. Penpan first attempted to reach beyond her province via agents. But some agents did not properly store products, prompting here customers to file complaints. This is how she chose to develop online.

“We invested a lot in branding. I bought Facebook ads myself. In the beginning, there were some failures. But at the very least, ad expenses meant we spent money on attracting customers. Today, 10 percent of our expenses are for branding and marketing communications. We communicate with customers every single day and we never feel tired,” Ms. Penpan said.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Penpan admitted she felt shocked at first. But she maintained her online marketing communications and her efforts paid off with demand rising higher than supply.

She attributed her success to the fact that her brand has a digital presence. Its Facebook page has 170,000 followers. When compared with the cost, she describes the results as “very rewarding”. 

“In the past, it took several years for a business to take a firm footing. But the online world speeds things up. The rest depends on the courage to do it,” the founder of Pookai Dong Klong Khlung concluded. 

dtac Net for Living provides training to entrepreneurs wishing to develop new revenue streams online. Follow us on https://www.facebook.com/dtacnetforliving/